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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Governor Travels Familiar Road; Angelides Tries to Find Foothold

Schwarzenegger makes a series of carefully managed appearances as his opponent steps up personal attacks.

October 18, 2006|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

With less than three weeks to go before election day, the major party candidates for governor of California have settled into traditional campaign modes, which analysts say serve to reinforce the advantage held by Republican incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Over the last two weeks, Schwarzenegger has scheduled near-daily public appearances, making the most of his status as sitting governor.

He has symbolically christened the first Virgin America plane to be based at San Francisco International Airport, signed an executive order in San Diego aimed at tightening port security and presided Tuesday over the renaming of a stretch of California 30 through San Bernardino after Martin A. Matich, owner of a local construction firm, Republican backer and proponent of the Foothill Freeway.

The events have been brief and tightly controlled, aimed at getting the governor face time on local television news broadcasts without having to answer many reporters' questions. It is the classic campaign run by politicians with comfortable leads, where the biggest risk comes not from the challenger but from the candidate himself.

On the other hand, challenger state Treasurer Phil Angelides has been addressing small union-organized rallies and groups of volunteers at local Democratic campaign headquarters, or speaking -- as he did Monday in San Francisco -- before a small panel of reporters as he received endorsements from local police and fire unions.

While Angelides remains accessible to reporters and the public, the appearances rarely bring him in touch with voters not already committed to him, since organized labor long ago took his side. And Angelides answers most reporters' questions with snippets from his stump speech rather than the kind of impromptu comments that might sound new enough to get quoted in news stories or on television.

Jennifer Duffy, who tracks gubernatorial races for the independent Cook Political Report, sees few opportunities for Angelides to catch up short of "a colossal mistake on Schwarzenegger's part -- but I mean it's got to be big." Even then, she said, Angelides might have trouble exploiting a Schwarzenegger stumble.

"He doesn't have the money," Duffy said. "Unfortunately, in California you've got to give that factor the greatest weight."

Angelides turned this week to a more personal attack on Schwarzenegger than he has to date, arguing that a sexual harassment complaint that Schwarzenegger settled out of court in August raised questions about his fitness for office. Terms of the agreement with former British TV host Ann Richardson have not been disclosed.

"Certainly the fact that Gov. Schwarzenegger is the first governor [in California] to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit is relevant," Angelides said in a telephone interview Monday evening. "If this were a CEO of a corporation, the board would be meeting to say, 'What do we do about this problem, about this guy?' It is relevant."

Angelides also referred to private comments Schwarzenegger made earlier in the year about the physical attributes of a Latina legislator -- whom he described as "very hot" -- and whether she was Puerto Rican or Cuban.

Yet Angelides has neither exploited those issues in ads nor made them part of his campaign appearances. Members of the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board opened the door during a live webcast interview Monday, asking Angelides why he had not attacked Schwarzenegger's character. Angelides said, "I believe character is important and I believe that it has a place in this race," then shifted gears to discuss the state's minimum-wage hike and the governor's recent embrace of global-warming legislation.

He also referred to controversy that arose over the weekend after Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia (R-Cathedral City) -- the object of Schwarzenegger's comment -- reportedly told students at La Quinta High School during a discussion of the governor that "I wouldn't kick him out of my bed." Garcia has since apologized.

"The governor ought to condemn those comments," Angelides said. "They're not right. They're not proper. They don't set the right example. So character matters."

The Schwarzenegger campaign's response was aimed at Angelides, not Garcia.

"Angelides' flailing campaign is grasping at anything to get noticed," said spokesman Matt David. "Unfortunately, we expect California voters will be subjected to more of this over the next 21 days."

However enthusiastic, the dust-up did not represent the gist of the campaign these days. On Sunday, Angelides dropped in on two services at predominantly African American churches in Los Angeles and spoke at an exhibit on the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, drawing attention to his efforts as treasurer to ensure that California pension fund investments do not exacerbate conditions there.

On Tuesday, he spoke before the Associated Ministers Empowering Neighborhoods group in Sacramento and today planned to rally Democratic Party phone bank volunteers.

In the meantime, the governor is avoiding any encounter that could spark a fire for his opponent. In San Bernardino on Tuesday, Schwarzenegger addressed more than 300 people paying their respects to Matich, a prominent campaign supporter.

Schwarzenegger sang the praises of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), who was an ally in the campaign for Propositions 1A-1E, state bonds on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"The man has a great vision when it comes to infrastructure and all those things," Schwarzenegger said, pointing out Perata's presence in the audience. As scattered applause broke out, Schwarzenegger cracked a joke while reinforcing the bipartisan theme.

"Are you applauding Perata or me?" Schwarzenegger said as the audience laughed. "You got to make up your mind now, OK? It's one or the other, or maybe both of us, because we are working on this together."

*

scott.martelle@latimes.com

Times staff writer Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.

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