By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Early on, one major glitch threatened to derail talks early on when Jesse Jackson, appearing with Davis, started some long-distance taunting about Schwarzenegger debating Davis. I quickly contacted South and Sipple about it. South assured me in an e-mail that Jackson had “no inside knowledge of our strategy, tactics or back-channel contacts with anyone.” And that the good reverend was freelancing. In any event, Davis had reportedly already departed before Jackson made his provocative remarks.
Going into the big debate last week in Sacramento, both camps were aware of the stakes. The Davis team realized that if Schwarzenegger did well in the debate and if McClintock stayed in a strong yet distant third place, as he was then doing in both campaigns’ polls, then the former Mr. Universe would be in a strong position in the election. As anticipated, that turned out to be the result of the debate, despite Schwarzenegger’s gratuituous dustup with conservative turned liberal commentator Arianna Huffington.
With the big debate in the rearview mirror, I took a planned break in San Francisco. Don Sipple’s call reached me on my cell phone late last Thursday afternoon at Emporio Armani where my friend Viktoria and I were looking at clothes.
“Do we have a damn back channel going here or not?” demanded the usually imperturbable Sipple. “And what is that music?” As the customary fashion electronica pulsed in the background, I asked what was up.
Davis, it turned out, had declared that he was so upset by Schwarzenegger’s purported inaccuracies that he was thinking of asking for a debate with Schwarzenegger. He further said that he would decide whether to ask for a debate in two days. Since he had already been trying to get a debate for two and a half weeks, this was amusing, to me if not to Team Arnold. I told Sipple I would call Garry South.
South, who doesn’t always answer his cell phone, didn’t answer. A few hours later, I got through, but it seemed to be a bad connection, perhaps caused by the urban canyons of San Francisco and the real if boutique canyons of L.A. South said something about “miscommunication,” then the line went dead. I called back and he didn’t answer, nor did he respond that night to a page or an e-mail.
The next morning I was back in Sacramento for a McClintock press conference. South called on the cell phone at the close of the event. In the course of a long conversation, the governor’s longtime chief strategist agreed that Davis had abrogated our agreement. And he suggested that at an event later that day with former Governor Ann Richards, Davis would simply challenge Schwarzenegger to debate.
Davis had good reason to break our agreement. He knew the Sacramento debate went well for Schwarzenegger and that McClintock would no longer be the threat he had been portrayed to be in the press. More important, he knew the action superstar would have far less reason to debate him now.
Without the debatehe and his chief advisers had long sought, Davis was reduced to the campaign we see now, an abandonment of the positive campaigning that had partially if very belatedly revived him and a renewal of the relentless negative campaigning that turned off many voters last year. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger, having finally consolidated most of the Republican Party behind him, is moving back into positive mode, campaigning as a radical centrist during a statewide bus tour that culminates this Sunday in a big rally outside the state Capitol. While a campaign is never over until it is over, some bad things have to happen to prevent a Schwarzenegger victory.
It is unfortunate that Schwarzenegger will not debate Davis. It would be a spectacular story and would entertain and educate the public. Such an event might help people see whether or not Schwarzenegger could be a governor. This is the principal reason I agreed to the Davis request to try to arrange such a debate. But political consultants of any party seldom suffer malpractice suits for counseling caution. And I doubt Davis would do this, but there is a chance that Davis would turn the event into a mud bath that would diminish the process and the governorship no matter who ended up holding the office. With many unanswered questions about what exactly the leading contender, Arnold Schwarzenegger, would do in office, we move forward to October 7. Judgment Day.
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