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Daniel Weintraub

California Insider

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Sacramento Bee Columnist Daniel Weintraub

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« Schwarzenegger's reform proposals | | Let the sun shine, let... »
September 19, 2003

Floating above the fray

The next few days will be crucial to the campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger if the Oct. 7 election date is restored by the courts. His one major remaining Republican rival, Tom McClintock, is about to benefit from television commercials paid for by the wealthiest interest group in California – the Indian tribes who run gambling casinos. McClintock and all the other candidates, meanwhile, are combining forces to ridicule the actor for ducking all but one debate, and for choosing as his only debate one with a format in which the questions have been released in advance. His opponents either don’t know or don’t care that the format also allows for 90 minutes of free-flowing give and take among all the candidates, with all of them free to ask each other any question they like. The media have picked up on the everybody-ganging-up-on-Arnold theme, which is more fun to write about than the sort of serious political reform proposals the candidate offered Thursday in Sacramento. How Schwarzenegger responds to all of this may well decide the election, which remains a toss-up in independent polling. If he stays above the fray, laughs off the attacks and notes that his foes are being financed by the very interest groups he has threatened to sweep from the Capitol, it could solidify his campaign and win support in the days leading up to the election (if there is one). If, on the other hand, he attacks and snipes and whines about his opponents (as he did on Thursday), voters will likely see him as weak and partisan, not the kind of leader who can bring people together for the greater good of the state. It is truly extraordinary to see candidates from across the political spectrum, including a major Republican and major Democrat, working together to undermine one of their rivals. That seems, again, to play right into Schwarzenegger’s hands, reinforcing the “outsider” persona that his own campaign has so far failed to emphasize. But as Reagan so often showed, words, gestures and body language matter at times like this. One example: I remember how Reagan almost never used the word “Democrat” when criticizing his opponents. I always assumed that this was because he wanted every possible Democrat to vote for him, and he figured that blasting the party by name would make its members defensive and less likely to support him. So he always said things like “there are those who would undermine our security…” or “my opponents say…” Schwarzenegger has his moments as a communicator, but he hasn’t mastered that skill of using words that unite even as they define his differences with the opposition. With intense interest focused on his every move, his every word, he will need that skill in the next few days, and in the debate next week, if he is going to win this campaign.

 
 

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