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Schwarzenegger Seeking Re-election

Imminent Announcement Seen as Boost to Flagging Reform Package

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) will announce his candidacy for re-election next week as part of a multifaceted effort to invigorate flagging public support for a November special election that includes an initiative to overhaul how political districts are drawn.

Prominent Republican officials in California expect Schwarzenegger to declare his candidacy for the 2006 governor’s race sometime between Friday’s close of the 2005 legislative session and Sept. 16, the opening day of the state GOP’s annual fall convention.

“He’ll announce sometime between [today] and the convention next weekend,” one Republican official said this week.

The launch of Schwarzenegger’s campaign to pass three voter initiatives in a Nov. 8 special election — also expected to get under way next week — coincides with the release of polls that show little support for his agenda, and find him trailing in hypothetical re-election matchups with the two leading Democratic primary candidates for governor.

Of more immediate concern to Republicans, perhaps, is the political message Schwarzenegger is using to sell his special-election agenda: It could be a recipe for failure on Nov. 8, GOP pollster Frank Luntz said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

“One of his consultants made a point that even if Arnold is polling poorly, the Legislature is polling even worse, so by comparison, Arnold is doing well,” Luntz said. “That is the dumbest way to look at it. That is the kind of ineffective politics that causes people to lose.”

Luntz recently completed a poll on Schwarzenegger’s special election prospects at the behest of “private clients.” He declined to reveal specific numbers uncovered by his survey.

In a Field poll of the governor’s special-election measures, redistricting reform (Proposition 77) trailed badly among likely voters, with 46 percent opposing, 32 percent supporting, and 22 percent undecided.

Schwarzenegger wants to take the responsibility for drawing Congressional and legislative lines away from the Legislature and place it with a panel of retired judges. His goal is to see new boundaries drawn before the 2006 elections.

Field pollster Mark DiCamillo, noting that redistricting has gone before California voters three or four times and never passed, said a “yes” vote is much more difficult than a “no” vote, because a “no” vote doesn’t change anything.

“There’s been a historical reluctance on the part of voters to get involved in redistricting,” DiCamillo said in an interview. “Voters are somewhat suspicious of tinkering with the inside workings of politics.”

But Luntz, who polled extensively on the attitudes of California voters during the 2003 recall campaign and proved to be a pretty accurate gauge of voters’ opinions during Schwarzenegger’s first run for governor, said there is still time and opportunity for the former movie star and body-building champion to pass all three of his measures in November.

Luntz predicted that redistricting reform will pass, saying his research tells him voters want more accountability over the process governing how they elect their Members of Congress and legislators.

The key, Luntz said, is crafting a message that appeals to “Schwarzenegger Democrats” who voted for the Republican governor in 2003 because he promised to make government “accountable” to the public. According to Luntz’s polling, they will support Schwarzenegger’s special-election agenda if he stops the negative approach of berating the Democratic-controlled Legislature and frames the campaign as a positive effort to improve government accountability.

“Running against the Legislature turns you into a traditional, i.e., regular, politician. Only politicians attack other politicians,” Luntz said. “Statesmen and outsiders support people. It’s essential for [Schwarzenegger’s operatives] to be positive in their approach.”

Schwarzenegger’s political team is preparing a campaign that will rely on unique messages for each of the governor’s three propositions, but will cast all of them under the banner of “reform,” campaign spokesman Todd Harris said.

Harris described the upcoming campaign as a battle with Schwarzenegger and the people on one side, and the big-government labor union bosses on the other, saying: “We have to change the way business is done in Sacramento, and each of these propositions fixes one piece of a broken system.”

Harris also had a few choice words for Luntz when asked about the pollster’s criticism. “Frank’s been shopping that poll around to half of Sacramento. I’m pretty sure I saw my mailman with a copy of it,” he said. “This is just another publicity stunt by a vendor trying to get hired on a campaign.”

One voter Schwarzenegger has recently managed to sway on his initiative to strip the Legislature — mid-decade — of its power to draw political districts in favor of the nonpartisan panel of retired judges, is House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.).

Dreier said earlier this year he would prefer the proposal be delayed until after the next census is taken in 2010, but as recently as last week during a dinner meeting Dreier gave Schwarzenegger he had his full support on all three of the measures the governor is pushing in the Nov. 8 contest.

Dreier said Schwarzenegger has asked him to play a role in the campaign, and that he looks forward to honoring that request, including publicly stumping for the governor’s initiatives if that’s what is asked of him.

“I talked to Gov. Schwarzenegger, saying initially [redistricting reform] should be done following the census, and I lost that argument,” Dreier said Wednesday. “I will do whatever he asks me to do to help him move his reform agenda. I believe his reform agenda is very important.”

Dreier, who played a key role in Schwarzenegger’s run for governor in 2003, also expects to reprise his role in the governor’s re-election bid, should he be asked to do so.

Of the three Schwarzenegger-backed measures in November’s special election, only Proposition 74, to lengthen the number of years required for public school teachers to earn the tenured status that makes firing them difficult, was ahead in the Field poll, with 46 percent supporting, 37 percent opposing and 17 percent undecided

The governor’s signature measure, one to overhaul the state budget process (Proposition 76), was trailing even worse in the polls than redistricting, with 65 percent opposing, 19 percent approving and 16 percent undecided.

DiCamillo said Schwarzenegger’s main problem is one of style, not substance. Most voters blame the Legislature more than the governor for the state’s problems, but would rather Schwarzenegger be less confrontational and negotiate with lawmakers more, as they perceive he did last year when his job-approval ratings peaked at 65 percent.

Field’s latest numbers have the governor’s job approval ratings at 36 percent.

“I’ve been amazed at the huge change in public attitude over the governor in the absence of any major crisis or scandal,” DiCamillo said. “What’s happened during that year? Nothing; it’s the governor’s political posture.”

Meanwhile, successive Field polls unveiled last week and this week, showed 56 percent of registered voters are “not inclined” to support Schwarzenegger’s re-election, while 36 percent were inclined and 8 percent had no opinion.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who has been racking up most of the endorsements from prominent Congressional Democrats, led Schwarzenegger in a hypothetical race 43 percent to 40 percent, while state Controller Steve Westly led the governor 42 percent to 39 percent.