There’s one problem with thisgood advice. Ventura was running for Minnesota governor at a time of great prosperity. The state had a $4 billion budget surplus. Ventura had a simple and popular program — give part of that money back to the taxpayers, and use the rest to reduce public school class sizes. That, plus his no-nonsense populist answers in nearly a dozen televised debates, convinced enough Minnesotans they could take a chance on him.
Schwarzenegger, by contrast, seems to be betting that he doesn’t need a program of any kind, beyond more afterschool programs and naming Warren Buffett an unpaid campaign advisor. Arnold’s inexperience may scare voters worried about the state’s economic and budget crises, though it’s likely that he’ll try to turn that into a strength, claiming that only someone who hasn’t been involved in Sacramento’s silliness can clean up its mess.
Two men who helped Ventura get elected governor, Dean Barkley, his campaign chairman, and Bill Hillsman, his advertising whiz, have signaled their own unhappiness with the “Arnold as Jesse” analogy by signing on with Arianna Huffington’s maverick campaign. Barkley is withering in his scorn for Schwarzenegger’s supposed bona fides. “Jesse ran against the political system as an independent, while Arnold is a Pete Wilson Republican — he’s just surrounded himself with all of Wilson’s old people,” he says. “Jesse was candid, and spoke from his heart. Arnold is scripted.”
But Barkley admits that so far, Schwarzenegger has copied the first part of the Ventura playbook very well. “Arnold’s got a very positive image, people generally like him,” he says. “By portraying himself as an outsider who’s using his own money and can’t be bought, he successfully came out of the shoot, going out there for the independent voter.” But, he adds, “The question is can he hold the independent voter by saying nothing, and avoiding debates and anything controversial?”
“We know the independent voter, perhaps better than anybody,” says Barkley. “They’re tired of the status quo. They think Democrats and Republicans are the problem, not that they can solve any problems. The issue is usually motivating them to vote. But in California, the voters are very angry. They’re tired of what the process is doing to their state. They’re enamored of Arnold now, but let’s see where we are in six weeks.”
Micah L. Sifry is the author ofSpoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America (Routledge, 2003), which is now available in paperback.