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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Angelides, Governor Work the Holiday

Schwarzenegger pays a nostalgic Labor Day visit to a bodybuilding event in Venice. His challenger seeks to shore up support among unions.

September 05, 2006|Michael Finnegan and Robert Salladay | Times Staff Writers

OAKLAND — The two major party candidates for governor extended their brawl across California on the traditional Labor Day kickoff to the fall campaign, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger paying a nostalgic visit to Muscle Beach in Venice on Monday while his Democratic rival Phil Angelides dashed to union rallies to rouse rank-and-file Democrats.

Schwarzenegger's day had the tone of a victory swing. At Republican volunteer centers in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties, he all but ignored Angelides, whose image the governor has sullied in television ads depicting his challenger as being too eager to raise taxes.

Buoyed by his recent legislative deals with Democrats on global warming, prescription drugs and the minimum wage, Schwarzenegger told campaign volunteers in Carlsbad that Californians elected him on faith in 2003, but he expected more in 2006.

"This time, I want people to go work for me, and to vote for me not as an act of faith, but as an act of confidence -- confidence in what we have accomplished the last three years," he said.

Angelides, the state treasurer, was more combative. In Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego and Oakland, he sought to seize the Labor Day media spotlight to gain some momentum in a race where polls have consistently found him trailing.

At morning campaign stops, he called Schwarzenegger a "first-class fraud" whose recent "deathbed conversion" to a moderate agenda was a ploy to win reelection.

"He wants you to believe he's a new man," Angelides said at a San Bernardino brunch. "The new Arnold Schwarzenegger is as fraudulent as George Bush's claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

Angelides highlighted his own plans to cut taxes for middle-income Californians and roll back college tuition increases. The middle class has struggled to meet rising costs of living, he said, while oil companies, health insurers and other Schwarzenegger donors have been "making out like bandits." Tax breaks, he said, should go "to people living paycheck to paycheck, not corporations who can put 10 lobbyists on their payroll."

"No matter how many lies the right tells, we didn't become the richest nation in human history because we lavished more on those who have the most," he said.

The Democrat's tough tone was popular with the union crowds. At a Los Angeles labor breakfast, union members waved blue and orange signs saying, "Labor United for Angelides," and shouted "Si, se puede!" Spanish for "Yes, we can!"

But throughout the day, signs of Angelides' uphill challenge were apparent -- especially the political trouble caused by Schwarzenegger's agreements with legislators to cut greenhouse gas emissions, offer discounts on medicine and raise the minimum wage. Bit by bit, Schwarzenegger has eroded his opponent's ability to draw sharp contrasts on policy, so it came as no surprise that Angelides did not join the Los Angeles crowd in applauding Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) when he touted legislators' minimum-wage deal with the governor.

Nunez, a co-chairman of the Angelides campaign, said in an interview that deals made by Democratic legislators had not harmed the effort to unseat Schwarzenegger. "The question for voters, and Democrats in particular, is are they going to support a Republican who embraces a Democratic agenda, or a Democrat who's going to fight for the Democratic agenda, day in and day out," Nunez said.

Angelides also faced continued awkwardness in the delay by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in endorsing his party's nominee for governor. Villaraigosa, one of California's most popular Democrats and a political icon among many Latinos, plans to announce the endorsement today in appearances with Angelides in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Also scheduled to attend both events is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who endorsed Angelides three months ago, as soon as the treasurer won the Democratic primary. Whatever the events' value, they offer a reminder that the two mayors are leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010 if Angelides loses.

Dishing scrambled eggs for union members at the L.A. breakfast, Villaraigosa said Angelides "has my full support," but played coy about the planned announcement. "Am I going to San Francisco tomorrow? Oh my goodness, I didn't know I was," he joked. Villaraigosa, who left the breakfast seconds before Angelides arrived, will soon reaffirm his political alliance with the governor: Aides are planning a joint appearance in Los Angeles, where Schwarzenegger will sign a bill giving the mayor some control over public schools.

For Schwarzenegger, the day's highlight was a chaotic afternoon visit to Muscle Beach in Venice, where the former champion bodybuilder lifted weights in the 1970s.

Oily, tanned bodybuilders, some wearing nothing but rubber thong underwear, strained to take his picture with camera phones amid yells of "Arnold! Arnold!"

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