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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

At His Campaign Stops, Angelides Starts Anew

Saying he's trailing because voters `do not know me,' the Democrat ratchets up the rhetoric.

October 10, 2006|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

STOCKTON -- John Le Veck, a retired lawyer, stood near the back of a tree-shaded crowd at Victory Park here Monday morning and listened to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides run through his issues. Le Veck, a Democrat, liked hearing promises of more money for education, better access to healthcare, "concern for middle-class people -- those are all things that matter to me."

But like many Democrats, Le Veck is looking at the final four weeks of the campaign with a sense of hope, rather than confidence, that Angelides can erase Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's double-digit lead in the polls.

"I think, with hard work, it will be a close race," Le Veck, 65, said as Angelides chatted and posed for photos with supporters. "He has to overcome star power."

Over the last two days, Angelides has tried to whittle away at Schwarzenegger's support by ratcheting up the rhetoric, including an accusation that the governor lied during Saturday's debate about his record on education financing, pensions for firefighters, police and nurses, and other issues. And in an unusual admission, Angelides told reporters Monday that he is lagging in the polls in part because voters "do not know me" despite nearly a year of campaigning.

Angelides sought to cast Saturday's debate as the start of the critical part of the campaign, when voters begin to pay closer attention to the candidates and issues. "Democrats are going to start coming home very quickly," Angelides said.

And he is trying to infuse a sense of urgency into his campaign. As he traveled from Los Angeles through the Central Valley to San Francisco, he implored supporters to work harder in a period he likened during a Modesto breakfast rally to the "11th round" of a 12-round boxing match.

"Twenty-nine days, and we've got big work to do because so many people are counting on us to win this election," Angelides told about 160 people at the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club. "We need to work as hard as we can."

Yet many Democrats say they feel that if Angelides can't pull even in the coming weeks, they will have missed a golden opportunity to snatch back the governor's office three years after they lost it in a special election, and a year after Schwarzenegger's disapproval rating spiked to 59% in an L.A. Times poll.

"Schwarzenegger has an uncanny ability to change colors and win people over. He's a charming guy, but he's no governor," Gaylord Phillips, a Modesto Teamster official and political coordinator, said as he waited for Angelides to emerge from the rally. "If Phil is not able to pull it out this time, we'll have a Democratic governor in four years. The Republicans have nobody else."

But Phillips admitted unease over Angelides' chances.

"It's possible," Phillips said. "We're going to have to get out there and work real hard.... He's going to have to get out his supporters and beat the bushes, do phone banking, precinct walking."

Angelides argued that the governor is still drawing less than 50% support from voters in various polls, and that his own campaign can make up ground quickly.

"Thirty days is a lifetime -- look at what's happened to the House Republicans in one week," Angelides said Sunday as his campaign bus went from Los Angeles to the Central Valley. "We will begin to now reach people through the ... media, and we will also be able to go on TV and tell people where we want to take this state."

Barbara O'Connor, a political analyst at Cal State Sacramento, said Angelides' task has been made more difficult by Schwarzenegger's recent success in breaching Sacramento's partisan wall -- including signing ceremonies with prominent Democrats such as Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata.

"If the Democrats think it is a lost opportunity, they are partially to blame," O'Connor said. "Nightly pictures of the governor, the speaker and the Senate pro tem are not good reminders of why we need a Democratic governor."

Beyond policy issues, Schwarzenegger still enjoys personal popularity with voters who "even if they disagree with him, they like him and feel they know him," she said. The key to Angelides' chances, she said, probably will be turnout, since Democrats outnumber Republicans in California.

But though Democrats are energized nationally over Bush administration policies and the scandal surrounding former Republican Rep. Mark Foley's salacious e-mails to pages, it's unclear whether that will translate into a heavy showing at the polls for Angelides.

"The treasurer needs to keep providing reasons why Democrats must vote Democratic," O'Connor said.

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