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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Angelides Puts Iraq on Table

The gubernatorial candidate says he would immediately seek the Guard's withdrawal.

September 24, 2006|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

In a move to bolster his appeal among Democrats, state Treasurer Phil Angelides said Saturday night that on his first day as governor, he would call on President Bush to withdraw California's National Guard troops from the war in Iraq.

The Democratic nominee for governor said in a telephone interview that he would take court action against Bush if necessary to extract the state's National Guard members from Iraq. He said he would also urge other governors and members of Congress to join his effort.

"I will do everything in my power as governor of the state of California to bring our National Guard troops home," Angelides said.

At a Democratic primary debate in May, Angelides said governors lack the power to force the Pentagon to send a state's National Guard troops home from the war. But in the interview Saturday night, he said there might be some legal leeway on the matter.

Angelides said roughly 1,700 California National Guard troops are stationed in Iraq, but the number could not be verified on Saturday night. He also said he would not call for the withdrawal of several hundred California National Guard troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, Angelides opposed Bush's request to put other National Guard troops on the border with Mexico. Schwarzenegger agreed to send 1,300 Guard members there but refused a later Bush administration request for more border troops. The governor has maintained control over troops requested for border missions but not those sent to Iraq.

The treasurer, who is trailing Schwarzenegger in the polls with little more than six weeks left before the election, plans to lay out his views on California's National Guard deployment in Iraq in speeches in San Francisco and Burbank on Tuesday and then in Sacramento on Thursday, aides said. The Angelides offensive on Iraq is part of his effort to remind voters of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Republican roots and his support for Bush's reelection.

"Schwarzenegger has let our troops down by not speaking out against the war," Angelides said in the interview.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" in February, Schwarzenegger defended Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

"I think that we had to go in," he said. "There was a threat of terrorism. I think that it was the right thing to do."

The United States, he added, needed "to get out as quickly as possible, but also in a sensible way."

As for the state's National Guard troops, Schwarzenegger said he was not concerned that the Iraq deployment would leave California with too few to deal with an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster.

In response to Angelides' remarks on Saturday, Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Matt David suggested voters would see the move as a campaign ploy. "California voters know the difference between a governor and a president," David said. "If Angelides wants to run for president, he should be spending more time at the Iowa state fair and less time in California union halls."

The move comes at a time of major difficulties for Angelides. He has trailed Schwarzenegger in raising money, and his main benefactor, organized labor, has yet to spend heavily on his campaign. Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, has made inroads among Democrats and independents.

Angelides faces a tough challenge in making the war in Iraq a decisive topic in the gubernatorial campaign. Public opinion surveys have found that California voters rate education, immigration and other matters as more important issues for the state to address.

But the war is a central focus of the national battle for control of Congress in the Nov. 7 midterm election. It is also one of the main reasons that the national political climate has soured for Republicans. With low turnout widely projected in the California election, Angelides is counting on that national environment to drive more Democrats to the polls, along with the independents who often side with them.

Angelides is also banking on a low turnout among Schwarzenegger's political base of conservatives, some of whom have been irked by his deals with Democratic lawmakers on vast public works bonds and other matters.

"It's going to be who has the most energized base at the end of the day, and that's where we're going to concentrate our efforts," Angelides media strategist Bill Carrick said in an interview last week.

In July, a Field Poll survey found 58% of Californians want the U.S. to withdraw all or some of its troops from Iraq. The poll also found that 67% disapprove of Bush's handling of the war and 61% disapprove of his overall job performance.

The most recent wave of Angelides television advertising is a Democratic Party spot that shows Schwarzenegger campaigning for Bush in Ohio, a crucial 2004 swing state, and mentions the troops in Iraq.

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

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