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VOTER GUIDE

The Contrarian State

Reliably Democratic California looks more GOP-friendly this year than much of the U.S. In a climate that favors the moderate, Schwarzenegger sets the tone.

October 15, 2006|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

By political tradition, California forges its own way. It has affirmed its place in the forefront of reliably Democratic states even as the nation has kept Republicans firmly in control of Congress and the White House.

So now that the national mood has shifted amid the troubles in Iraq, giving Democrats a shot at seizing Congress, it is oddly fitting that 2006 is shaping up as a strong year for Republicans in California.

The Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is heavily favored for reelection Nov. 7 over his Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Phil Angelides. Several other Republicans seeking statewide office are mounting surprisingly competitive races against Democratic rivals, though the outcomes are far from sure. And billions of dollars in bonds and taxes on the ballot face tough prospects, thanks largely to Republican voters' aversion to government growth.

With its nearly 16 million voters spread across more than 163,000 square miles, California is so vast that it creates an election climate of its own. This year, its dominating force is Schwarzenegger, whose comeback from his political collapse last year is driving a potential Republican resurgence in California -- or at least what would pass for one in a state so effectively Democratic.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 19, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 4 inches; 163 words Type of Material: Correction
Voter Guide: An article in some editions of Sunday's Voter Guide, about Orange County's 5th Supervisorial District race, reported that Orange County candidate Patricia Bates' campaign had said that her opponent, Laguna Niguel Mayor Cathryn DeYoung, accepted campaign contributions from the county firefighter and deputy sheriff unions. DeYoung has not. Another article in some editions, about the Ventura County race for 4th District supervisor, said candidate Peter Foy entered it at the urging of Sheriff Bob Brooks. According to Brooks, he did not ask Foy to run but instead endorsed his campaign after the incumbent, Judy Mikels, was defeated in June. An article in the guide about the race for secretary of state said Debra Bowen was the only woman on the statewide ballot. She is the only woman from the two major parties running for a statewide constitutional office. Also, the guide's main story said Bowen's opponent, Bruce McPherson, was seeking reelection. He came to office through appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 22, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 4 inches; 165 words Type of Material: Correction
Voter Guide: An article Oct. 15 in some editions of the Voter Guide, about Orange County's 5th Supervisorial District race, reported that Orange County candidate Patricia Bates' campaign had said that her opponent, Laguna Niguel Mayor Cathryn DeYoung, accepted campaign contributions from the county firefighter and deputy sheriff unions. DeYoung has not. Another article in some editions, about the Ventura County race for 4th District supervisor, said candidate Peter Foy entered it at the urging of Sheriff Bob Brooks. According to Brooks, he did not ask Foy to run but instead endorsed his campaign after the incumbent, Judy Mikels, was defeated in June. An article in the guide about the race for secretary of state said Debra Bowen was the only woman on the statewide ballot. She is the only woman from the two major parties running for a statewide constitutional office. Also, the guide's main story said Bowen's opponent, Bruce McPherson, was seeking reelection. He came to office through appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Further isolating California from the national swing toward Democrats is the absence of serious competition in the state's 53 congressional races, but for two U.S. House districts where the reelection of Republicans is somewhat uncertain.

By drawing the state's congressional map to protect incumbents of both major parties, the Legislature has made California immune from "the great churning dissatisfaction with the Republicans on a national level," said Tony Quinn, co-editor of California Target Book, a nonpartisan election guide. "We might as well be out in the Pacific Ocean someplace."

Also marginalizing California's role in the nation's midterm vote is the all-but-guaranteed reelection of Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her Republican opponent, former state Sen. Richard Mountjoy of Monrovia, has raised too little money -- and is too conservative -- to pose a credible threat.

As for Schwarzenegger, he has refashioned his political image in a way that separates him more than ever from the social conservatives who lead the national Republican Party. A supporter of gay rights, gun control and legal abortion, he has doggedly chased after support from Democrats and independents this year, as must any California Republican running statewide. (Republicans make up 34% of California voters, Democrats 43%. Another 23% have shunned the major parties but still tend to favor Democrats.)

For the most part, Schwarzenegger has done so by striking deals with Democrats who control the Legislature, signing bills he had long resisted. One of them cuts prescription drug costs. Another caps greenhouse gas emissions to put California in the vanguard of the fight to stop global warming.

Schwarzenegger has also neutralized some of the fervent opposition he faced last year from organized labor by signing a bill to raise the minimum wage and by restoring school money that he had diverted to balance the state budget. In a nod to labor's success in defeating his initiatives last November, Schwarzenegger has also dropped his bellicose rhetoric against "union bosses."

"I wouldn't say that California's going Republican so much as the Republican gubernatorial candidate has put on Democratic colors for the sake of the election," said Jeff Lustig, a political science professor at Cal State Sacramento.

In his reelection ads, Schwarzenegger stresses such typically Democratic issues as schools, healthcare and the environment, along with the touchstone Republican topics of crime and taxes. At the same time, he has joined Democrats in pushing for $37 billion in bonds for vast public construction projects.

The overall mix has enabled Schwarzenegger to cast himself as a centrist in his battle against Angelides, who positioned himself as a liberal in the Democratic primary with a showcase proposal to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

For Angelides, a former developer and state Democratic chairman, the campaign has been disjointed. In the spring primary, he emphasized character, portraying himself as the rare Democrat who had the guts to stand up to Schwarzenegger budget cuts at the peak of the governor's popularity.

Over the summer, he shifted to populist economics: He vowed to fight for middle-class Californians struggling with rising costs of gasoline, healthcare and higher education. To blunt Schwarzenegger's attacks on his history of supporting tax hikes, Angelides also pledged to cut taxes for Californians who make less than $100,000 a year.

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