OK, we have official candidates now -- 158 or so -- and the real race is on. Schwarzenegger starts out on top of course, but only because the electoral bar is set low. I for one hope the media does its job and asks hard questions -- rises above the cult of celebrity and presses Arnold and the other candidates to prove they are more than their rhetoric.
Just to be clear, I think Davis is toast. I see nothing undemocratic about this recall. But neither is it any more legitimate an act of democracy than the last election. I've seen no good evidence yet that turnout will be higher, and I presume that most of the recall signatures came from the 3 million people who voted against Davis nine months ago. So it's a go-over, a Republican mulligan, but a legal and legitimate one. The weak part is that the winner will get nowhere close to a majority. In fact he or she almost certainly will get way less votes and a lower percentage than Gray Davis did last year -- and probably less votes than Davis gets on the recall question.
A popular revolt? Against Davis, sure looks that way. For Arnold? Let's be generous and say he wins with 30-35% (or 65-70% opposed to him). He would go to Sacramento with less popular support than any California governor in my or your lifetime. (For comparison, McGovern's 38% against Nixon in '72 was viewed as a humiliation.) So the Dems, the majority party, will have no reason to roll over for Arnold's agenda, since he will speak for fewer people than even Davis did. The Reeps in the legislature, the minority party, are way more conservative than Schwarzenegger and won't do his bidding. Call me crazy, but I need to be convinced that he has a clue -- given this real world -- how he would "clean up the mess" or "pump up California," let alone make the state better for business or reduce taxes.
Talk is cheap. Every candidate I ever covered said they would be good for business and half of them vowed they would clean up the mess in (insert relevant office). Not impressed.
Maybe Arnold and his shadow Pete Wilson team have some magic plan -- it could get real interesting if they do, especially if Arnold changes course and goes truly bipartisan. (Not likely...) The only way voters will know is if the media treats Schwarzenegger like a real candidate, asks the questions he doesn't want to answer, and ignores those in the blogosphere who will whine that any tough reporting is a "media smear." It's fine, as some Arnold boosters have pointed out, if a governor doesn't know all the ins and outs of running a state. But he should know at least some nuances of big-time politics and governing.
The blogs have been interesting to watch. The blogosphere is usually skeptical and values the power of ideas, but there's been a lot of celebrity rapture and giving Schwarzenegger a pass on substance because he's the New New Thing. So far I've found the 24/7 Republicans like Hugh Hewitt the most refreshing -- he says flat out (in an Aug. 8 post) that the best thing about Arnold is he can win and his celebrity helps the GOP ticket nationally, not that he would be anything special as a governor. (The 24/7 Democrats will simply blast Arnold at every turn, I assume, like the Republican sites do Davis and, as of last week, Bustamante.) It's already been widely reported that Limbaugh is skeptical -- and you know things are strange when Rush Limbaugh and Tim Rutten agree.
Here's some of the weekend coverage:
158 File To Run for Recall, L.A. Times
Schwarzenegger Built Vast Business Empire, L.A. Times
Wilson Backs Schwarzenegger, Sacramento Bee
State Reels From Political Hardball, San Francisco Chronicle
Arnold Keeps SUV But Goes Domestic, Kausfiles