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Schwarzenegger Wins Public Back in California

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good bet for re-election. Just a year ago, his popularity tanked after he called a special election for initiatives voters despised. Now most polls give Schwarzenegger a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent, Phil Angelides.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE: Last year, after Schwarzenegger's whopping defeat, he did something that voters may wish politicians did more often: he apologized. And in his State of the State Speech, he swore he'd learned his lesson.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): Cool the rhetoric, find common ground, and fix the problems together. So to my fellow Californians I say, message received.

(Soundbite of applause)

JAFFE: So the Republican governor spent much of this year working with the Democrats in the legislature on some bills at the top of their wish list. With much public fanfare he's recently signed a groundbreaking measure to curb greenhouse gas emissions and a bill to lower prescription drug prices for the poor. And at an inner city market in L.A., he put his autograph on a bill to raise the minimum wage to eight an hour. Never mind that he previously vetoed two similar bills.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: This will make a real difference to the lives of the hardest working people, if it's the homecare workers, the janitors, the farm laborers, and the list goes on and on and on.

JAFFE: At every one of these signing ceremonies, Schwarzenegger has been surrounded by and praised by prominent Democrats. One of them, Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez, is a campaign co-chair of the governor's Democratic opponent, Phil Angelides. Nunez didn't see a conflict.

State Senator FABIAN NUNEZ (Democrat, California, Assembly Speaker): His progress is a Democratic agenda, and so our hope is that the voters of this state will follow our lead and elect a Democratic governor.

JAFFE: Though Nunez never actually mentioned that Democrat's name.

(Soundbite of crowd)

CROWD: Phil. Phil. Phil. Phil...

JAFFE: Phil Angelides has had a hard time finding an issue that Schwarzenegger hasn't gotten to first, so he's looked overseas. At a union hall in Burbank, he told a crowd of supporters that when he's governor, he'll do whatever he can to bring California's National Guard home from Iraq.

Mr. PHIL ANGELIDES (Democratic Candidate for Governor): When a shameful and phony war compromises the governor's ability to meet the needs of our people when a disaster strikes our state, then you better believe it's an issue in the race for the governor of the state of California.

JAFFE: Polls show nearly 80 percent of the state's Democrats want to bring at least some troops home from Iraq. And Angelides still hasn't closed the deal with members of his own party. Polls show just about 60 percent support him, which explains this ad tying Schwarzenegger to the politician Democrats hate the most.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Let's go out and re-elect President George W. Bush.

(Soundbite of cheering)

JAFFE: The commercial shows Schwarzenegger campaigning for Bush in Ohio two years ago.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

ANNOUNCER: Arnold Schwarzenegger is for George W. Bush. Is he for you?

JAFFE: Schwarzenegger has hired the same campaign team that re-elected Mr. Bush, but he's parted with the president on a number of high profile issues, such as stem cell research and global warming. And voters just don't see him as a hardcore Republican partisan, says Barbara O'Connor, a political analyst at Cal State Sacramento.

Professor BARBARA O'CONNOR (Cal State Sacramento): The perception is that he's larger than life and he's richer than God. And so they treat him and apply different standards to him than they do other politicians. And they don't - I don't think they really think of him as a politician in some ways; he's still an action hero.

JAFFE: If Schwarzenegger has been criticized for anything, it's for his record-setting fundraising, which Angelides brought up in their one and only debate.

Mr. ANGELIDES: The fact is that the governor has taken $100 million in special interest contributions from the development industry, from the oil industry, from the tobacco industry. It goes to who you can trust and who's bidding you're doing.

JAFFE: Schwarzenegger painted Angelides as a tax-happy liberal.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Just say to the people, look out there right now - look out there right now and just say I love increasing your taxes. Just say it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: There are signs that Angelides supporters are beginning to lose heart. The powerful prison guards union had planned to buy five million dollars of TV time for Angelides commercials. But a few days ago the union pulled out more than a million dollars that had been targeted for the home stretch of the campaign.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

WERTHEIMER: Many black and Latino voters who normally vote Democratic are expected to side with Governor Schwarzenegger this year. You can find out why by going to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."
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