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The Demopublicans

October 19, 2006

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, who needs Republicans? That's got to be what Phil Angelides asks himself about his Democratic Party pals. Guys such as Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- who endorsed Angelides for governor and say they want him to win -- seem instead to be throwing their man under the bus. That would be the reelection bus, by the way, driven by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Angelides had only to switch on the news last month to see Nunez, with the blue Pacific in the background, standing next to the governor and praising him for his leadership. Changing channels, he could have caught Nunez doing it again, this time in Spanish. Priceless -- and free -- reelection publicity. Nunez has said he won't appear with Schwarzenegger anymore to support the package of bonds the governor and the Democrats placed on next month's ballot. But another Democrat -- Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland -- is standing up with the governor for the cameras.

It's old news that Nunez played nice with Schwarzenegger in Sacramento this year because both men saw the good sense in working together. The governor improved his image with Democratic and moderate voters by backing Nunez-led bills to raise the minimum wage, lower the price of prescription drugs and fight global warming. Nothing wrong with that, by the way -- those bills were good for California. And Villaraigosa may well be right to think he's better off if his candidate loses. A reelected Schwarzenegger would be out in four years, leaving Villaraigosa a clear field for the governor's job. Angelides, if elected, could stick around for eight.

Although it was merely interesting watching top Democrats cozy up to Schwarzenegger during the legislative season, when deal-making ruled the day, it's downright curious watching them negotiate the political season. Villaraigosa started off according to script, endorsing his party's candidate right after Labor Day. He then proceeded to join Schwarzenegger for a signing ceremony to celebrate the mayor's school-governance legislation. Now, with just weeks to go before election day, Villaraigosa is not only out of state, he's out of the country -- in fact off the continent entirely, on a 16-day trade mission to Asia.

The fact is, Schwarzenegger has been good for the Democrats in 2006, and they seem to think they can manage him. But they have abandoned Angelides so completely that they're threatening the rest of their ticket. Democrats in three other statewide races are struggling. Just four years ago, the party held every elected statewide post and couldn't keep itself together. Former Gov. Gray Davis fell, then Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. The remaining Democrats either turned on each other or sought safe harbors. Now three of the last five Democrats in partisan statewide office are termed out and trying to arrange job swaps instead of promoting new blood.

Partisanship has so infected U.S. politics in recent years that any sign of comity should be encouraging. The question for Californians, however, is whether this marriage between the governor and the Democrats is based on respect or convenience. If the latter, then let's enjoy it while it lasts. Because it may well be over Nov. 8.

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