Recall Endgame - September 26, 2003
The much-anticipated California recall debate is over. Although the media punditocracy were divided about which candidate to proclaim as winner, Jacks and Jills in the Golden State had no problem. The majority picked Arnold.
A News10/SurveyUSA poll taken immediately after the candidate clash said 32 percent of California voters dubbed Arnold the winner, 22 percent named McClintock, 13 percent settled on Bustamante, 6 percent chose Green Party candidate Trotskyite Peter Camejo, and an amazing 4 percent thought Arianna Huffington's "Zsa Zsa on crack" skit won the day.
The poll indicates that most folks care less about policy wonking and more about charisma, leadership and just plain talk.
The day after the debate, Arnold won something else the triple crown of endorsements. Big name Republicans Darrell Issa, Bill Simon and Bill Jones all signed on.
In addition, Peter Ueberroth is said to be poised to add his name to the Schwarzenegger list. And 58 California Republican county chairmen voted to endorse Arnold. Now that's the kind of political momentum a candidate would give his or her bleached teeth for.
The Republican Party faithful, though, do find themselves split into two familiar camps. McClintock supporters who compose one group see the 20-year veteran as the only acceptable candidate in the race. Schwarzenegger supporters, who make up the other group, see the election as a choice between either Arnold or Bustamante, and if forced to pick, they'll choose Arnold every time. So it's déjà Perot all over again.
Meanwhile the Davis and Bustamante forces see an opportunity. Art Torres has been enticing Republicans to vote for McClintock.
We heard Arianna Huffington praise McClintock, whose positions she loathes, and attack Arnold, whose positions she toasted before Al Franken took over her body. Her best bud lib Bill Maher had McClintock on his HBO show and treated him as if he were Bubba's twin brother.
Even casino-owning Americans have been dropping silver dollars into McClintock's slots. Something is terribly wrong with the lefty picture when everyone from Wolf Blitzer to Alan Combs heaps praise on a true blue conservative.
Although the idea of Republicans living in a divided house is appealing to Dems, some signs of unity on the part of Republicans are beginning to take shape.
McClintock took to the airwaves the day after the debate to reiterate that he's in the race to stay, but he's in an ever-growing political predicament. If he drops out, his conservative base will feel betrayed. If he stays in and Bustamante wins, the Republican establishment will blame him and that will effectively deep-six his political career.
Unless McClintock experiences a major surge in the polls and leapfrogs past Arnold, his best option is to come to some sort of unity arrangement and grab a sweet role in a Schwarzenegger administration.
Hey, it could happen. When I attended the California Republican Convention, informal communications between the McClintock and Schwarzenegger campaigns were virtually continuous. And McClintock and Arnold were very respectful to each other at the debate.
At his press conference right after the debate, Arnold was asked for his thoughts on McClintock. "I think he's a terrific guy," Schwarzenegger said. "We would make a great team in Sacramento."
As it stands now, I see the recall endgame concluding in one of two ways California will have a revitalized GOP, a Republican governor and a stand-up Senate candidate who'll toss Barbara Boxer out of the ring, or it will have a continuation of one-party rule, the loss of two viable candidates and the biggest post-election bellyache in its history.