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New Sheriff in Town?

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s massive rally on the south side of the state Capitol, the climax of his four-day bus tour of California, provided just what the Los Angeles Times editorial board must fear. It was a dramatic demonstration of how a powerful celebrity can channel populist anger, creating a political experience unmediated by elites. While Schwarzenegger for the most part struck a positive, upbeat tone Sunday afternoon, declining to attack his principal antagonists -- Gray Davis, Cruz Bustamante, and the Times -- the disdain for the political class underlying his message was palpable.

"Bring me the broom. We are going to clean house here," he declared, pointing over his shoulder to the Capitol and holding a broom aloft as his supporters screamed their support. The Rainbow coalition-style cast of children on the stage behind him applauded his every move.

There was no torch-lit Nuremberg-style parade, of course, the fantasy image underlying the concerns about Schwarzenegger’s purported Hitler statements of a quarter-century ago. But the crowd’s raucous reaction to Schwarzenegger’s full-throated pledge to "kick some serious butt here," coupled with the endless live renditions of a reunited Twisted Sisters’ 1980s hit, "We’re Not Gonna Take It" – complete with Schwarzenegger jamming along on guitar after his 14-minute address - must have been disconcerting to those peering out of their windows at the spectacle below as well as Schwarzenegger opponents watching on TV.

Some 10,000 people attended, twice as many as last year’s farmworkers march on the Capitol, the only comparable rally in recent years. Schwarzenegger planned to march across the Sacramento River, up Capitol Mall, then to the stage on the ornate Renaissance restoration building’s south steps. But fresh security considerations in the midst of this increasingly rancorous campaign put the kibosh on that.

In contrast, Davis drew only a few hundred supporters to his big rally Saturday at the Teamsters’ hall in Oakland, despite the presence of the governor, the state’s two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Willie Brown and Jerry Brown, making a rare appearance on behalf of his former chief of staff.

In the midst of the tumult of charges against Schwarzenegger, a welter of conflicting poll numbers are being bandied about. The Schwarzenegger and Republican camps, which are not exactly the same thing, insist that their polls show steady and large support for both the recall and Schwarzenegger.

Team Gray says the recall is falling and Schwarzenegger is fading, though one key member of that team says Schwarzenegger will still win the replacement ballot. A new Knight-Ridder poll still shows big support for the recall and a solid Schwarzenegger lead. But the Friday night portion of that poll reportedly showed much closer results. Of course, Friday night is a notoriously bad night for polling, as younger voters, who in this election largely disdain Davis and back Schwarzenegger, have better things to do than talk to pollsters.

Intriguingly, both Republican and Democratic sources say that the prison guards’ union, excuse me, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, has a new poll showing sizeable leads for both the recall and Schwarzenegger. The prison guards are the canary in a coal mine of California politics. Except, in their case, the canary doesn’t drop in the cage but instead pries open the bars and flies around with the run of the place. Their read is generally a harbinger of impending power shifts

The prison guards were huge players and the biggest contributor in Republican Pete Wilson’s 1994 win. They played the same role for Davis in 1998. In the recall, they have pulled their punches, perhaps because Schwarzenegger spent three hours signing autographs at their convention last year. And perhaps because they believe there will be a new sheriff in town. Indeed, even reporters who are writing that Schwarzenegger is in serious trouble say they expect him to win.

Meanwhile, Davis is making preparations for his defeat, calling for an extraordinary session of his seldom-convened Cabinet for the afternoon after the election and making plans for the shredding of documents.

Interestingly enough, in its Sunday story alleging sexually obnoxious behavior by Schwarzenegger, the Times has quietly dropped its claim that his political opponents weren’t pushing the story on the paper.

This followed in the wake of the Weekly’s Saturday report that a former close colleague of Davis, Jodie Evans (who the Times disingenuously described merely as a peace activist) is also a veteran Democrat and former close colleague of Governor Davis. Evans was instrumental, according to the Times story Saturday, in urging one of the women to come forward after the newspaper’s initial investigative piece on Schwarzenegger ran in Thursday’s editions. Given the Times’ acknowledgement of Evans’ role, it was the newspaper’s responsibility to properly identify her for its readers.

And so we move forward to the final two days of the election. Sunday night tracking polls should be even more interesting than those taken on Friday and Sunday, given their more reliable samples.


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