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A wide campaign trail

September 30, 2006

'GEORGE W. BUSH! George W. Bush! George W. Bush!" By now you've probably seen the commercial featuring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger leading a chant for President Bush at a campaign rally. That was two years ago. In Ohio. Intended to persuade Californians to vote for Democrat Phil Angelides for

governor, the spot instead raises the question of who he's running against and which job he's running for.

What can the governor of California do about Iraq? Not much, but that hasn't stopped Angelides from trying to convert California's robust antiwar sentiment into votes. "As governor, I will do everything in my power to bring our state's National Guard troops home from Iraq," he said Tuesday. The proposal is a nonstarter both legally -- the Supreme Court has ruled that a governor cannot block a National Guard deployment just because he doesn't like the purpose -- and politically.

The last candidate to campaign for governor by running against the president was Arianna Huffington in 2003. She received 0.6% of the vote. California, then as now, is a state confronted by myriad public policy challenges, including a decrepit infrastructure, a huge population of illegal residents and air and water pollution. It is these issues voters want and deserve to hear about.

California is big and exceptional enough to occasionally impersonate a nation, especially when its desires and regulations conflict with those in Washington. And it's hard to argue that the state has been shy about asserting itself lately.

Few other Republican governors have wandered further from the Bush reservation than Schwarzenegger, on issues such as the environment, immigration and stem cell research. While Angelides was spending the week on college campuses railing against "the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld excuse for a foreign policy," the governor was signing a historic anti-global warming bill into law.

Of course, Schwarzenegger's recent embrace of Democratic issues, in sharp contrast to his "girlie man" rhetoric of 2004 and his failed union-bashing of 2005, does raise the question of what his true principles are. At the very least, his tenure as governor leaves him open to charges of zigzagging. That's a case Angelides could make. At least then the discussion would shift to what the chief executive of California should be doing about the problems of California.

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