Sunday, August 10, 2003

A CARNIVAL, NOT A CIRCUS: That'll be my Henley-inspired headline for recall posts from people slamming other people for calling the recall anti-democratic or a Republican plot or something goofy. Screw y'all, this is fun. Daniel Weintraub argues something like that:

Wealthy candidates have not fared well in California. And Davis and the Democrats have tried to paint the recall as tainted by millionaires seeking to buy a public office. But Arnold isn’t going to sit back and take that punishment. He has gone on the offensive, using his wealth to his advantage. He has enough money, he has said several times, so that he doesn’t have to take campaign contributions from the interest groups buying influence in Sacramento. He will make decisions “for the people.” We can debate forever how he will know what “the people” want or need, and whether “special interest groups” aren’t simply collections of like-minded “people.” But Arnold’s got a powerful line and a brilliant strategy for minimizing the wealth issue or even making it work for him. Especially with those voters turned off by the connection between money and politics, who think that every politician is in the pocket of the big contributors.

The other thing about these voters is that, being casual observers of politics, they probably care less about the nitty-gritty policy details than do regular voters. This plays into Arnold’s other strength. He can appeal to them not with policy white papers but with calls for new leadership, shaking things up, bringing people together. He can run as the outsider. The Democrats already are telling us that Arnold has only voted occasionally. This can be a liability in a traditional campaign. It makes the candidate seem irresponsible. But watch for Arnold to turn this one around as well. I predict he will not apologize for his infrequent voting but try to use it to his advantage. “I have rarely voted because the candidates have all been terrible,” he will say. “They have all been the same. Professional politicians who didn’t connect with me, didn't speak to me.” Thus he becomes the voice of the occasional voter, their poster child. He gives them cover for their own lack of participation and a reason to change that now. It wasn't their fault they failed to vote. It was the politicians' fault. Now we can punish those pols for their sins.

Only one other candidate, Cruz Bustamante, has much chance of reaching new voters, of expanding the base. He would be the first Latino governor in modern times. California has about 2.5 million Latino voters. But exit polls suggest that only between one-fourth and one-third of them voted in the last election. If Cruz connects with them, is adopted by them, becomes their hope and aspiration, he could generate significant new turn-out and benefit from it. And his campaign for those votes will be largely unseen and, perhaps, undetected by the mainstream media, and by pollsters. Like Arnold’s attempt to reach disaffected voters, we may not know if Cruz’s campaign is working until Election Day.

Despite the record number of candidates, I would not be surprised if this became a two-man race. Arnold v. Cruz. The immigrant against the son of immigrants. Both of them are going to be doing everything they can to expand the number of people paying attention to politics and participating in it. Combine that with the more traditional, between-the-lines game to be played by most of the other candidates, plus the work of mavericks like commentator Arianna Huffington, and you have the chance for a huge voter turnout, perhaps greater than last year, perhaps greater than any recent election for governor.

And I thought the recall was supposed to be anti-democratic.

An expansion of people involved in politics is as close to an unadulterated Good Thing as you can get.

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