Well, I guess it is only right, the GOP & NRA has pretty much written us off. The Republicans will never again control the state legislature in the foresee able future.
Bill Jones' Campaign Quandary
With only tepid support from Bush, the GOP challenger to Sen. Boxer could use a boost from the governor -- who so far has kept his distance.
By Scott Martelle
Times Staff Writer
September 5, 2004
Bill Jones strode to the podium at the Republican National Convention last week and, in a speech that lasted two minutes, took a telling verbal detour.
Whereas fellow Republican Senate candidates delivered tag-team endorsements of President Bush, Jones mentioned the head of the Republican ticket only once, almost as an afterthought, while praising a certain former movie actor three times.
"The California dream is alive and well with Arnold Schwarzenegger as our new governor," Jones said during the convention's opening hours, his voice echoing through New York City's mostly empty Madison Square Garden. "With his dynamic leadership, and that of President Bush, we've seen a reinvigorated economy and an increased stature for the Golden State, and we're not going back."
As the campaign for California's U.S. Senate seat enters its final two-month run, Jones' short speech a continent away accented one of the key difficulties of his quest to unseat two-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Support from Bush ? which seems tepid at best ? won't do Jones much good in a state where only two of five likely voters say they back the president. And though a public embrace from Schwarzenegger, whose job-approval rating stands above 60%, might help, the freshman governor so far has kept Jones at arm's length.
This is Jones' quandary. Despite campaign swings by such high-profile Republicans as Vice President Dick Cheney, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party has not given Jones the kind of support it has given candidates in other states, a disengagement that has left the former Fresno-area rancher mired in a political bog of low name recognition, low fundraising and low voter interest.
The lukewarm Boxer-Jones campaign seems at odds with the candidates themselves. Each is capable of a hard fight, and, together, they offer what voters say they want ? real choices both in substance and in strategies, with Jones running as a conservative waving Schwarzenegger's bipartisan flag and Boxer seeking to make her race a referendum on national policies by campaigning against Bush as much as against Jones.
The election is the first chance since last year's rambunctious recall for voters to define the state's political soul. Republicans hoped that Schwarzenegger's win meant a political change of wind, but Jones' lagging efforts could confirm that Gov. Gray Davis' recall was the result of the specifics of the moment ? a disgruntled electorate and a high-energy newcomer with Hollywood star power ? rather than a fundamental shift among the state's voters.
"Given the current polarization of the electorate, it is unlikely that even the support of Schwarzenegger will translate into many votes for Republican candidates among the Democrats and the Democratic-leaning independents," said Mark Baldassare, research director for the Public Policy Institute of California. "Schwarzenegger's support, however, could help to convince the independent voters who are not leaning Democratic to support Jones in the fall election."
Though Schwarzenegger has become more partisan in recent days ? he compared the Democratic National Convention to one of his films, "True Lies," and may stump for Bush in the Midwest ? he stands to lose more than gain by helping Jones.
"Jones is going down to defeat and Schwarzenegger can't save him," said Shaun Bowler, a political analyst at UC Riverside. "Arnold only backs winners. That way he can claim to have helped them win in the first place. Once he begins to back losers, then that image fails. So Schwarzenegger going down with him would hurt the governor's standing and the carefully polished image that he can bend public opinion to his will."
Jones does face a daunting task. Most recent surveys have found about a 15-point lead for Boxer, with about 10% undecided ? not much room to maneuver for Jones.
With five Senate candidates on the ballot, voters have their pick along the political continuum. But the race is largely between Boxer and Jones, as different in style as they are on the issues.
Jones, tall and rugged-looking, is seemingly ill at ease in a suit despite more than two decades in politics. Boxer is on the low side of 5 feet tall ? she jokes about the "Boxer box" she stands on so she can be seen over a lectern ? and after 40 years on the West Coast still has the brassy tones of her native Brooklyn.
A tough competitor, she is campaigning under the assumption that no lead is safe even though she has far outpaced Jones in fundraising. At the last reporting period June 30, Boxer held a $6-million lead in cash on hand.
"Now the polls look good for me," Boxer said, "but I believe this race will tighten, and I believe it will be tight."
First, though, Jones has to fire up his own base. Only half of likely Republican voters were satisfied with Jones as their candidate, though 77% said they would vote for him, according to an August poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. Nearly three-fourths of Democrats were satisfied Boxer was their candidate, and 87% said they'd vote for her.
Each candidate is taking a different tack in the campaign.
Boxer has painted Jones as a potential lapdog for the Bush administration, whose policies she believes have damaged the nation's economy and environment, and whose unilateral approach to foreign policy has made the world more unstable and the nation unsafe. And she accuses Bush of abandoning decades of Washington's bipartisan goals ? protecting the environment, backing healthcare and research, providing for the welfare of seniors.
She described the fall election ? both for her Senate seat and the White House ? as a possible "turning point in post-World War II American history," a chance for voters to turn "either away from those bipartisan American goals or toward an embrace of those goals."
In a mirror image of Jones' argument that Boxer is too liberal for most Californians, Boxer says Jones is too conservative, citing his votes in the California Assembly from 1982 to 1994 against gun control and an increased minimum wage, and for offshore drilling and a loosening of environmental regulations.
"The distinctions ? are great," Boxer said. "You can say a lot of things about this race, but one thing you can't say is that there's no difference between the candidates."
It's one of the few points Jones and Boxer agree on.
Jones has sought to portray Boxer as ineffective and unable to make headway on issues such as energy, the environment and the economy, while casting votes he said would weaken national defense. He argues that Boxer, a noted critic of Pentagon spending and the war in Iraq, is weak on national security. And he says California would be better served with a Republican in the Senate rather than, in his view, a marginalized liberal Democrat.
Jones, a lifelong conservative, has moderated some of his positions, nudging closer to the center on such issues as the environment. After voting in the Assembly in support of offshore drilling, Jones called earlier this year for a moratorium and proposed a federal buyout of oil leases. While acknowledging he opposes abortion, Jones says he "would not impose my personal beliefs on abortion, and I will not use this issue as a litmus test for judges or other policy decisions" ? as he accuses Boxer of doing.
Jones is still trying to make up for his relatively late entry into the race. Most candidates spend a couple of years organizing campaigns ? building grass-roots networks, raising money, assembling staffs. But two years ago Jones was out of office and busy setting up a Central Valley ethanol company after coming in a distant third in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary behind Bill Simon Jr. and Richard Riordan.
A door opened when Gray Davis was swept out of office in the October recall, replaced by Schwarzenegger, which Jones saw as evidence of a growing Republican tide that could also topple Boxer. Jones jumped into the race and, with Schwarzenegger's endorsement, easily won the March primary.
"We want to make sure California finishes the job we started last fall when we won the recall," Jones said recently in Sacramento. "The completion of that turnaround in California is now winning this U.S. Senate race."
So far, though, Schwarzenegger has stayed away. Jones told supporters this summer that his campaign already has ads with the governor "in the can" and that Schwarzenegger would help him raise money. But Schwarzenegger's office said he has yet to film any ads for Jones, and though they have appeared at private functions together, Schwarzenegger had not hosted any fundraisers and none were planned.
Jones has been getting some help from national Republicans. Bush let him ride along during a California campaign swing in August ? though he did not host a fundraiser, as he did for Rep. George Nethercutt, a GOP Senate candidate in Washington state. Cheney hosted a fundraiser in Riverside, drawing a reported $200,000 for Jones, but the event was mostly a plug for the Bush-Cheney ticket.
On an overly warm summer day last month, U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) joined Jones in a hotel meeting room in Sacramento and, with a broad professional smile, extolled Jones' virtues as a Senate candidate, calling Boxer vulnerable and the race winnable.
Allen chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which at the end of July had more than $20 million on hand to help out Senate candidates ? and has been steadily raising money since then. Under funding formulas, the committee could spend as much as $3.4 million on Jones, giving him an instant budget for crucial ? and expensive ? TV ads and adding credibility to his campaign.
But Allen brought little more than glowing words and the promise of $200,000 above the $60,000 he said it has already given ? rent money in a race that will cost $15 million or more to wage effectively.
"The determining factors will be continued closeness of the race," Allen said. "If somebody is far ahead or far behind, we're not going to be sending any money there."
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times