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Both Sides Emphasize Election's Magnitude

November 07, 2005|Mark Z. Barabak and Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his political foes blitzed across California on Sunday, from big cities to small towns, battling over ballot measures that -- all agreed -- could significantly change Sacramento.

The consensus ended there.

Schwarzenegger, campaigning through the Central Valley and into Los Angeles, characterized Tuesday's vote as a chance to right a political system that has gone seriously off kilter.

"The other side, they hate the idea of making changes in California," the governor told supporters at a raucous Bakersfield rally.

The governor's opponents, gathered en masse at a union hall in South Los Angeles, depicted Schwarzenegger's agenda as a power grab by a chief executive run amok.

"As California goes, so goes the nation," said Edgar Romney, a New York labor leader, adding the governor had to be defeated Tuesday or similar proposals would "spread across this country like wildfire."

As volunteer armies hit the streets to summon voters to the polls, the two sides also faced off in another televised question-and-answer session. This one originated from KTTV in West Los Angeles.

At the governor's insistence, the 60-minute program was split into segments, with two representatives of the opposition -- Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a Los Angeles Democrat, and Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Assn. -- appearing in the first half-hour but not staying to share the stage with Schwarzenegger.

"He has been a very polarizing figure in this state, and very divisive," Nunez said of Schwarzenegger, calling him "not the person we elected when we voted for him."

Nunez called the special election a waste of tens of millions of dollars and nothing more than "a way for the governor to attack nurses and teachers and firefighters and police officers in California. It was totally unnecessary to do this."

When his turn came, in the program's second half-hour, Schwarzenegger described the election as the only way to overhaul a political system deeply resistant to reform.

"I was sent to Sacramento not to keep the status quo, not to go on with business as usual," he said. "I was sent to Sacramento to fix the system, as an outsider to come in and get in there, and bring Democrats and Republicans together."

While the governor faced several pointed questions, the tone was far less confrontational than a similar forum in Los Angeles on Thursday night, which was dominated by several Democratic Party activists. Much of the discussion Sunday night focused on education, a perennial concern of California voters.

"Let me tell you something: I'm an education governor," Schwarzenegger said. "I believe in education. I've started after-school programs in Los Angeles, all over the state of California, and all over the United States.... I love kids, and I love education. I would never take a penny away from education."

Union officials have castigated him throughout the campaign for doing just that by refusing to return $2 billion borrowed from education funds.

Apart from their public events, the two camps were busy working behind the scenes on the all-important ground operation that each has built to prod supporters to the polls on Tuesday.

Jarryd Gonzales, political director of the California Republican Party, said the GOP hoped to make face-to-face contact with 500,000 likely voters in the final days of the campaign.

"What we started doing in 2003 was building a permanent infrastructure in each of the counties, and we haven't stopped since," Gonzales said.

For their part, the forces allied against Schwarzenegger deployed thousands of people to knock on doors throughout the state, talking up Tuesday's vote and making sure absentee ballots were mailed on time. Organized labor, the Democrat's main ally in the election fight, was providing most of the muscle.

"These are people we consider our voters who we're talking to, as opposed to those we're still trying to persuade," said Gale Kaufman, a Democratic consultant leading the anti-Schwarzenegger effort. "We're reminding people the election is Tuesday and pointing out, because many precincts have been consolidated, where they go to vote."

For those still "shockingly undecided," as Kaufman put it, there was a final blast of radio and television advertising, pitting a somewhat contrite Schwarzenegger against opponents accusing him of politically overreaching.

Both sides were also running extensive phone-bank operations; in addition to conversations between volunteers and voters, there were millions of "robo-calls" -- or recorded messages -- going out across the state.

Democrats and others targeted by the party heard from Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, among others.

Republicans and others in the GOP's sights heard from Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Assembly Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and other party luminaries.

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