Schwarzenegger a `big winner' after Calif. vote

Governor lobbied hard for two ballot measures

March 04, 2004|By Vincent J. Schodolski | Vincent J. Schodolski,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LOS ANGELES - If there was any doubt about the strength of fledging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's political power, it was laid to rest by the overwhelming support he mustered Tuesday for two key ballot measures.

Schwarzenegger staked a great deal of political capital on the approval of the two measures meant to help the state out of its fiscal crisis and prevent similar problems.

Just a couple weeks ago, opinion polls indicated that the propositions, known as Measures 57 and 58, were headed for a crushing defeat. That launched Schwarzenegger and other state officials into a whirlwind of campaign events across California. The Republican governor managed to rally nearly all of the state's leading Democrats to his cause.

He even appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to promote the two measures. Sitting by Schwarzenegger's side on Leno's show was Gray Davis, the Democratic governor who was recalled last year.

Measure 57, which authorizes the state to sell $15 billion in bonds to raise money to pay off previous budget deficits, was supported by 63 percent of voters. Measure 58, requiring officials to balance the state budget each year without deficit spending and borrowing, won with 71 percent.

The results left observers convinced that Schwarzenegger's political muscle is equal to the strength he developed during years of bodybuilding.

"I'd be lying if I tried to say anything other than Arnold was a big winner," said Democratic political strategist Joe Cerrell.

Schwarzenegger had a lot to lose had the measures been defeated. He was elected in California's historic recall election in October by running as a political outsider who would shake up the way business was done in Sacramento. Part of his appeal was his promise to go directly to voters if legislators did not end the partisan gridlock that Schwarzenegger said had led to the state's fiscal mess.

That is what he did with the two ballot measures. Their defeat would have made it more difficult for Schwarzenegger to threaten lawmakers.

Another promise he made during his fall campaign was to govern in a bipartisan manner. His willingness and ability to get Democrats behind the measures made good on that promise, experts said, and showed that he can translate his name recognition and celebrity into effective politics.

Although Schwarzenegger's approval rating hovers around 70 percent, some question whether his triumph Tuesday can translate into something bigger for California Republicans and the national GOP.

But Cerrell said it is doubtful that Schwarzenegger can deliver California for President Bush in the November election. A better use of Schwarzenegger by the national party would be to have him appear in battleground states where his celebrity would guarantee big crowds.

"People will come out to see the Terminator anywhere," Cerrell said, adding that he participated be telephone in an Italian television interview show about Tuesday's vote. "They're even interested in the governor in Italy."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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