Schwarzenegger is vulnerable, but some Democrats worry their only candidates so far aren't 'exactly the charisma twins'
John Wildermuth, Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writers
Friday, August 19, 2005
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: vulnerable in 2006? Chronicle...
With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's popularity plummeting, a growing number of Democrats are asking whether state Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly should be the party's only choices for governor.
Prominent Democrats ranging from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Rep. Leon Panetta to non-politicians such as businessman Steve Jobs and comedian Robin Williams are mentioned in the quiet conversations of Democratic activists, although no one is saying anything -- at least publicly -- about jumping into the race.
"Six months ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger looked unbeatable, and now to many people he looks like he could be beat,'' said Kam Kuwata, a Democratic consultant for Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn. "That's a big change.''
With Schwarzenegger refusing even to say whether he'll seek re-election, Democrats see a chance to take back California's top office, something that seemed far out of reach when the superstar actor rode a record wave of popularity to take office after Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003. But while Angelides and Westly were welcome to fight for the chance to lose to Schwarzenegger, Democrats across the state are asking whether they're the right candidates to beat the governor.
"In the past couple of days, three different people have come up to me to talk about different alternatives,'' said Joe Cerrell, a longtime Democratic consultant in Los Angeles. "People are talking about this in Southern California.''
Angelides and Westly are hearing those same rumblings.
"People don't say it to us directly, but I know there's talk out there,'' said Jude Barry, Westly's campaign manager. "It's not a huge surprise. Neither Westly nor Angelides are household names, although I guarantee you they will be by election day.''
"It's not a concern or a surprise,'' said Dan Newman, a spokesman for Angelides. "People will always consider running.''
Angelides and Westly are not "exactly the charisma twins,'' said Barbara O'Connor, professor of political communication at Cal State Sacramento.
Angelides' record as an ultra-tough, behind-the-scenes political operative and Westly's flirtation with Schwarzenegger and his programs in last year's election are enough to keep the political name game going.
"Career politicians and flip-floppers aren't likely to attract real people's interest, so the Democrats are obviously saying, 'Isn't there someone else?' '' said O'Connor. "You need someone to re-excite them.''
A few Democrats have been looking quietly at the governor's race.
Newsom, for example, had talked with party fund-raising leaders to see how much money it would take to get into the race, according to activists within the party.
But Newsom said Thursday he would not run for governor in the 2006 election. He didn't even offer a qualifying statement, such as saying he had no intention to run or that he was not running at this time.
"I am not running. Period,'' he said, during an interview in Yosemite National Park. "I can barely get through the day-to-day travails of running San Francisco. I don't want to start worrying about the macro-economic challenges of the state.''
How about Beatty?
Actor Warren Beatty created a stir in May when he blasted Schwarzenegger during a speech at UC Berkeley and suggested he would think about running for governor.
"I'd do a hell of a lot better job than (Schwarzenegger's) done," he said.
Former Monterey Rep. Leon Panetta, onetime chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, is another person on many Democrats' wish list.
Panetta "has a strong national profile, and he also has the experience to be a very successful candidate,'' said Jeff Bleich, a trustee of the California State University system and a key Democratic donor.
Panetta heads a state commission designed to keep California military bases from being closed and said he's too busy to think about a run for governor. But he didn't slam the door.
"Talk to me in September,'' he said.
There's no shortage of California Democrats who have shown in the past they would love to be governor, but most of them already are running for other offices.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein lost a tight governor's race to Republican Pete Wilson in 1990 and has been rumored as a potential candidate ever since. But she backed away from a chance to challenge Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall and is preparing for a re-election bid next year.
"If she's not running for Senate, I've wasted a lot of time this summer, '' Kuwata said.
Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown served two terms as governor, but that was in the years before term limits, so he's eligible to run again. But he's dismissed the "Brown for Governor" talk and is running for attorney general.
Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi ran for governor twice and toyed with the idea of jumping into the recall fray. So far, however, his political efforts are aimed at the 2006 race for lieutenant governor.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer raised more than $10 million for the governor's race, then abruptly left the contest last April, opting instead to take his bulging war chest to the contest for state treasurer.
Dropping out of the governor's race "is the right decision for me, for my family, for the public and for my party," Lockyer said when he made the announcement.
Plenty of other Democrats have shown up in rumors and trial balloons.
Actor Rob Reiner, who has been involved in a number of initiative campaigns, was on the list of Democratic possibles in a Field Poll in June. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County was in San Francisco earlier this month talking with union leaders about a possible challenge to Schwarzenegger. Antonio Villaraigosa, the newly elected mayor of Los Angeles, has been mentioned as a potential candidate, and some Democrats have even said, only half joking, that Gray Davis could give his GOP successor a tussle.
Some in the state's Democratic hierarchy have seriously suggested Robin Williams -- "smart, hysterically funny and equally well known" -- as a competitor to the governor, especially given the comedian's involvement in social causes, said O'Connor, the Sacramento State professor.
Steve Jobs, co-founder and head of Apple Computers and Pixar studios and a major donor to the Democratic Party, is another person regularly mentioned as a possible candidate for governor, O'Connor and others say.
But for Jobs and many others, an important question remains: Do they have the interest in a thankless job like governor of California?
And any would-be challenger has to be ready for a costly campaign with the political clock starting to run down. Neither Angelides nor Westly has any intention of politely stepping aside; each has more than $15 million in the bank and campaign organizations a newcomer would be hard-pressed to match.
"Is there someone else? No,'' said Darry Sragow, who has run a number of Democratic campaigns in California. "Who could come in and get the resources to compete?''
Someone getting into the race probably would have to raise about $2 million a month from now to June to be competitive, said Barry, the campaign manager for Westly, who already has put $15 million of his own money into the race.
"Any candidate has to answer the challenge: Show me the money,'' he said.
Some Democrats are looking for alternatives to announced gubernatorial candidates Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, and Steve Westly, the state controller to run against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. Here are some of the names that pop up:
He's tanned, fit and ready, but he also has been recalled.
Gay marriage issue is a loser outside the Bay Area.
At 72, does she really need the problems?
It's "Leon who?" to most voters.
Way too many Windows users out there.
Like most members of Congress, she's unknown 50 feet outside her Southern California district.
Do voters want another actor in Sacramento?
Third time unlikely to be the charm for the insurance commissioner.
Been there, done that.
What about that fucktard attorney general we already have who just loves to fuck with gun owners? He's expressed interest in running
Bill Lockyer.. friggen asshat.
Asshat pays him too much respect, he's a cunthat.