Grouchy Old Party finds a rare ray

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - SAN FRAN­CISCO.

The Gov­er­na­tor’s back, and that’s good news, maybe, for the Repub­li­cans in Cal­i­for­nia. This could be bad news, def­i­nitely, for a cer­tain Demo­crat. The mere prospect is one of the few rays of hope for the Grouchy Old Party.

A new Field Poll, the old­est and of­ten the most re­li­able Cal­i­for­nia polling firm, finds that 56 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers now think Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger is a “sat­is­fac­tory” gov­er­nor. This in­cludes even ma­jori­ties of Democrats and in­de­pen­dents.

This is de­spite a month­s­long im­passe over how to struc­ture the im­mense state bud­get and the gov­er­nor’s fail­ure to de­liver a “re­form” of health care. His num­bers are prob­a­bly even higher than Field reck­ons, be­cause the poll re­sults were cal­cu­lated be­fore wild­fires de­stroyed hun­dreds of houses and ter­ror­ized ev­ery­one in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The Gov­er­na­tor was pho­tographed ev­ery­where at the fires, lend­ing mus­cle to the fire­fight­ers, ev­ery­body’s he­roes, and es­cort­ing Pres­i­dent Bush, not ev­ery­body’s hero, over scorched hill and burnt-out dale. He looked like a movie gov­er­nor pre­sid­ing over a movie fire, and Cal­i­for­ni­ans — who imag­ine they’re liv­ing in a movie, any­way — like that.

Surg­ing pop­u­lar­ity nat­u­rally leads to spec­u­la­tion about what’s next, and the pro­fes­sional spec­u­la­tors — the po­lit­i­cal re­porters, colum­nists, con­sul­tants and oth­ers who make their liv­ing pro­mot­ing angst and un­cer­tainty — nat­u­rally want him to run for some­thing else. Since his Aus­trian birth pre­cludes his run­ning for pres­i­dent, that some­thing else al­most has to be the United States Se­nate.

“It’s a throw­down that prob­a­bly will never hap­pen,” ob­serves Mike Zapler in the San Jose Mer­cury News, “but that’s not about to stop po­lit­i­cal junkies from dream­ing: Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, the Hol­ly­wood star-turned-Repub­li­can gov­er­nor and global warm­ing cru­sader tak­ing on Sen. Bar­bara Boxer, the scrappy, lib­eral three-term Demo­crat.”

The gov­er­nor and the sen­a­tor are re­garded as the heavy­weights in Cal­i­for­nia pol­i­tics, and the most re­cent poll shows them in a vir­tual dead heat — 44 per­cent for the gov­er­nor, 43 per­cent for the sen­a­tor. “This would be a fab­u­lous bat­tle royale,” says Robert Stutz­man, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant and the gov­er­nor’s one-time com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor. “Poll num­bers like th­ese just feed the par­lor game.”

Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing, and the stars in the heav­ens, like the stars in Sacra­mento and Wash­ing­ton, look like fall­ing in per­fect align­ment. The gov­er­nor’s sec­ond term in Sacra­mento will end in 2010, and what a co­in­ci­dence: so will the sen­a­tor’s third term in Wash­ing­ton. Some Sch­warzeneg­ger in­sid­ers say he won’t run, even though they think he could de­feat the sen­a­tor, be­cause the Se­nate is the orig­i­nal Gas­bag Club, where talk is re­garded as ac­tion, and the gov­er­nor is a man of real ac­tion. A gov­er­nor, like a pres­i­dent, is “the man,” and a sen­a­tor, af­ter all, is just a sen­a­tor.

Some of the spec­u­la­tors think the gov­er­nor might run for mayor of Los An­ge­les, down­mar­ket but still a celebrity, re­turn­ing to his ear­lier role as the Ter­mi­na­tor. He would be the big­gest ham (and cheese) in town. Or he might re­turn to Hol­ly­wood as a pro­ducer or di­rec­tor and make movies, per­haps even a movie about what hap­pens when an ac­tor lives out the ul­ti­mate Hol­ly­wood dream.

Garry South, a Demo­cratic con­sul­tant, thinks the lure of real power, even real power shared with 99 oth­ers, will be dif­fi­cult for the gov­er­nor to re­sist once the prospect of be­com­ing just an­other out-of-work politi­cian be­gins to come into fo­cus. “I don’t think Arnold is any more im­mune to that than any other politi­cian,” he says. “There’s noth­ing like be­ing in of­fice, like peo­ple call­ing you gov­er­nor, like hav­ing a se­cu­rity de­tail around you. You can’t over­es­ti­mate the al­lure of all that.”

Bar­bara Boxer, a hero­ine of the left and thought vul­ner­a­ble to the right Repub­li­can, knows this, too. She raises the pos­si­bil­ity, if not the like­li­hood, of a Sch­warzeneg­ger can­di­dacy in her fundrais­ing. So there’s some­thing here for ev­ery­one. It’s an ill gas­bag at­tack that does no­body good.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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