Tags: Schwarzenegger | Owns | the | Middle

Schwarzenegger Owns the Middle

Wednesday, 13 September 2006 12:00 AM

Poor Phil Angelides.

This should be his time of triumph, not tragedy.

The Democratic candidate for governor of California doesn't deserve to be running 14 points behind, here in this the bluest of blue states.

Wasn't it just a year ago that incumbent Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was getting his head handed to him at the polls in a special election, with all three of his ballot measures going down to resounding defeat?

And isn't it true that nationally, Republicans are about as popular as three-dollar gasoline, with the party scrambling to hold on to the House and the Senate, and the oddsmakers suggesting it could lose both.

Phil didn't call anyone a monkey. That was George Allen, the former Virginia governor and now Senator who is suddenly in a tough race for re-election against former Reagan official and Democrat Jim Webb. Phil Angelides is one of those old-fashioned Democrats who carefully worked his way up the political ladder to this moment without making any big goofs.

So how can it be that a perfectly respectable, articulate, intelligent, experienced Democrat, running a well-organized and well-financed campaign, with the support of everybody in the Party, in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, in an unbelievably good Democratic year isn't given a bat's chance in you know where of winning by anyone six weeks out?

The answer is simple.

As of now, much to the chagrin of many of his supporters on the right, Arnold owns the middle. He is running as a fiscal conservative, a moderate on social issues, a budget balancer, a strong supporter of education.

He is running right square in the center of the bell curve of the electorate. Which is what the electorate is, always has been and always will be, subject to slight adjustments left and right.

A year ago, he was still playing to the right, fighting with the legislature, calling people names. A year ago, any Democrat could beat him from the middle. A year ago, you could make an effectiveness case against him. Then he hired a Democrat to be his chief of staff, started compromising, fully funded education, made peace with the unions, passed a budget and started governing.

Phil is boxed on the left. He is running as the liberal in the race. Even in California, he can't win from there.

Now, you can debate the niceties of this: Did he get boxed because Arnold started advertising early? Did he get boxed because of the nasty primary fight with Steve Westley? Did Democrats once again nominate the wrong man, in the sense of the less electable of the two candidates?

Of course, things can still change in six weeks. This week's scandal is about an audiotape made in March, which Arnold has apologized for, in which he speculates about a legislator's ethnic origin (Puerto Rican) and bloodlines, and calls her "hot." She has forgiven him.

But the issue now is how the Angelides camp managed to download it from a computer in the governor's office and give it to the LA Times, and whether or not that was legal. With Phil's luck, the tape will end up costing him more, politically speaking, than it does Arnold.

What it hasn't done, at least so far, is rekindle the old "fire" of the earlier allegations against Arnold, which weren't much of a fire anyway. And if that is the best the Angelides people have at this point, they are in pretty tough shape. The danger for them is that the more people hear about the incident, the more they will react negatively toward the Angelides camp for downloading the tape and leaking it to the media.

When the history of this one is written, it may well be said that Angelides emerged from the primaries defined as a liberal, and that Arnold seized on that definition and cemented it before the election had even begun. The fact that he could pull that off, even in California, should give pause to Democrats who are about to embark on the 2008 primary process, from which the winner could well emerge defined as a liberal, only to find that definition cemented before he or she has time to define himself or herself in the fall. A Greek tragedy, politically speaking, unfolding now, as it has before.

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Poor Phil Angelides. This should be his time of triumph, not tragedy. The Democratic candidate for governor of California doesn't deserve to be running 14 points behind, here in this the bluest of blue states. Wasn't it just a year ago that incumbent Governor...
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2006-00-13
Wednesday, 13 September 2006 12:00 AM
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