As the mix of semiprepared candidates continue their rush toward a hoped-for date with destiny, the once-muddled field is coming into focus, presented here alphabetically.
Arnold the Obscure
From an absolutely brilliant start, and a not-at-all-brilliant follow-up, the man who over the course of years became the world’s greatest bodybuilder and biggest action movie star has over the course of four weeks become a fairly steady work in progress. He can be a powerful presence in lightning-strike public appearances, drawing thousands of enthusiastic supporters. He’s a confident and increasingly specific performer on talk radio, where he moves to shore up his Republican base. He has become an increasingly aggravating figure to the media, which complain that they have to shout questions at him in mob scenes, hear precious little detail in his replies and have zero access to him. It doesn’t help that he blew off Wednesday’s debate in the Bay Area.
During a recent talk, the Weekly asked the action superstar about his contradictory talk regarding the funding of his campaign. He seemed at first to say he would pay for it himself. Now taking money from rich individuals and some businesses, he seems to define special interests as people not supporting him. “You know I am not a professional politician,” he notes. “I’m not always as careful as I should be in how I say things. I have my own money. I don’t need to take money from anybody to run. It’s when you need the money that you become vulnerable. I’m not. I won’t take money from groups I’ll be negotiating with down the line.”
Of course, some of the corporations contributing to Schwarzenegger’s campaign are regulated by the state and are motivated by more than their love of bodybuilding.
Schwarzenegger also confirmed the recent Weekly report — citing a statement of his a year ago opposing the barring of undocumented children from schools — that he doesn’t want to revive the anti–illegal immigrant Proposition 187, which he voted for nine years ago. “No, we don’t want to go back. It was a time of real concern about burden on the state’s finances from offering services, but we’ll find another way with more help from the federal government and cooperation with the border states.”
Schwarzenegger has already survived something that would have shattered most candidacies, his tawdry 26-year-old interview with the defunct Oui magazine. His biggest problem isn’t private sex or boorish behavior. We all know he is a big movie star who has had a wild life. He needs to talk about what he will do as governor beyond, you know, making things better for all the people. The movie action hero needs to be a political action hero. If people can’t visualize him in the job, they won’t vote him into the job. The picture’s still pretty fuzzy.
Cruz the Truant
Like the movie superstar, the lieutenant governor has needed a lot of time to get up to speed. Although a former Assembly speaker, Cruz Bustamante has gone long stretches of time without saying anything. And what he has said sometimes doesn’t stand up to any serious scrutiny. But he has a winning manner, an impressive title and Latino support. What he does not have, according to his campaign manager Richie Ross, is anything like the strength suggested in the latest L.A. Times poll.
“We know Cruz had nowhere near that,” scoffs Ross, referring to the Times report last month that Bustamante led Schwarzenegger, 35 percent to 22 percent. “The numbers on Gray were way off, too,” he said, referring to the Times report that the recall is leading by only five points. “We like the support, but hey.” Ross says his polling, like other credible polls, shows a close race for governor and a large lead for the recall. “We have a tiny lead over Arnold right now,” he says, citing a mild hit from the Oui controversy. Other polls show Schwarzenegger even or ahead.
Ross was not quite so candid in discussing his attempt to slip through a loophole in the Proposition 34 campaign-spending limits to move huge contributions from Indian casino interests into the Bustamante campaign. It turns out Bustamante is ignoring a late-breaking state Fair Political Practices Commission opinion declaring his fund-raising move illegal, and continues to take the big checks. Democrats say they don’t expect the press, distracted by other things, to make a big deal out of it, so Bustamante will keep taking the big casino money.
Asked about that FPPC opinion, Ross says, “They haven’t told us not to do it.” As the Weekly began reading from the FPPC statement, Ross said, “That’s just a press release.” Asked if he would respond differently to a registered letter, Ross said, “No, I’m going to do what my lawyer says we can do.”
Gray the Wretch
It’s come down to this for Gray Davis. He has to hope that Schwarzenegger and Bustamante are implausible replacement governors. And that he is able to get outside his flinty, tightly wrapped personality just enough to convince a majority of voters that he deserves another chance. Oh, and he has to block his lieutenant governor from getting too big a shake of the somewhat bare Democratic money tree. And he has to do all this without looking like he is being his old negative self, because last year’s all-the-time act set the stage for the big rejection this year when the truth about the record-setting budget debacle came out. And yes, he has to hope enough voters decide that the power crisis wasn’t just the first in a series of Davis disasters.
You never quite say never about Davis. And labor is still in his corner, much more so than in Bustamante’s.
Tom the Caveman
What a moment for an ideologue! After years of shouting at the system, usually only to hear his own voice echo back at him across a canyon of disinterest, the right-wing state senator and almost state controller has his season in the sun. Which makes his first and only TV ad so far especially odd. I’ll describe it because, with the candidate only having funds enough to air it in Fresno and Bakersfield, you’ve never seen it. Replete with sepia tones and ’50s cars, it is all about the past. As for his future, McClintock, who looks prescient about the budget mess, certainly has one. But not as governor. All he can do is elect a Democrat.
Arianna the Amused
She was supposed to be running against her friend Dick Riordan, hopefully with no name Democrat on the replacement ballot. Instead, her thunder as an outsider against a corrupt system has been stolen by Schwarzenegger, her newfound ideology as a left-liberal pre-empted by Bustamante, himself a newcomer to the position. And she’s been hurt by controversies over her finances and a soap opera with her ex-husband. Here is what you need to know about Michael Huffington. He never bothered to tell her that he was coming out of the closet. She learned that he had given 20 hours of interviews to Esquire magazine when a Washington Post reporter called her for comment on the forthcoming article. Surprise!
After seeming at times to stalk Schwarzenegger and attempt to draw from his tremendous media attention, Huffington has settled into the better role of equal-opportunity offender, calling Schwarzenegger “a would-be insurgent surrounded by plutocrats” and Bustamante “a bought-and-paid-for politician.” Correct on both counts. But unless Davis becomes Lazarus, one of them is the next governor. Look for the lightly funded Huffington to be an intriguing and valuable presence who won’t draw many votes.
Peter the Dreamer I
The former Trotskyite–turned–investment manager polled 5 percent last November in the governor’s race, a Green Party record. One early poll showed him at 8 percent and rising. Instead, he is mired in the low single digits and is again struggling for recognition. It seems clear he was the safety valve last year in a race between two widely disliked candidates, Davis and Simon.
He and Huffington have a pact of sorts; one will withdraw late in the race for whoever has the best chance of victory. That’s not a choice to be worried about.
Peter the Dreamer II
Surprising many, the 1984 L.A. Olympics chief has had little to say and has not said it especially well. Ueberroth was supposed to be “Arnold for grown-ups,” the outsider riding in on a white horse to fix a broken system.
Instead, he is a man with a nonexistent economic policy and an illusory budget plan. Many things, like, say, the complete collapse of Schwarzenegger or Bustamante, must happen for him to have any chance of winning the governorship.