When the autopsy is conducted on the November elections, Friday, October 13, may be remembered as Black Friday for the moribund campaign of California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides. On that day Willie Brown, legendary godfather of state Democratic politics, former assembly Speaker and former San Francisco mayor, was hosting one of his powerhouse Bay Area “Breakfast Club” meetings, where Democrats strut their stuff. Not only was Angelides absent, reportedly because he was busy dialing for dollars, but the prime speaking spot–sandwiched between Barbara Boxer and State Senate president pro tem Don Perata–went to none other than Angelides’s rival, GOP Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In case anyone missed the point, Brown, who had pulled Angelides from obscurity in the early 1990s, loudly proclaimed to the gathering that Schwarzenegger, now commanding a double-digit lead, was going to be re-elected “no matter what.”
That same morning, as his former mentor was giving Angelides up for dead, it was reported that the powerful California prison-guard union–a major Democratic Party funding source–was releasing $1.3 million of the $5 million in airtime it had reserved for the final two weeks of the gubernatorial campaign. The union was clearly cutting its losses and heeding warnings that the party’s down-ballot candidates, now threatened with being fatally sucked into Angelides’s downdraft, needed help–especially financial help. Indeed, in what might emerge as one of the great ironies of this fall’s midterms, the swelling Democratic electoral current seems likely to hit high tide on the eastern slopes of the Sierra and then recede, stranding true-blue California as one of the few Republican success stories–and perhaps allowing Schwarzenegger to emerge as one of America’s most popular Republicans. Unless there’s an unanticipated scandal revealing that he went on a camping trip with Mark Foley–or Klaus Barbie–Schwarzenegger is poised for easy re-election.
Though Angelides locked up the endorsements and machinery of the state Democratic Party early on, his campaign failed to ignite any enthusiasm among Democratic voters, who hold a wide edge in registration. With November 7 mere weeks away, only 61 percent of Democrats express a commitment to him, refusing to “come home,” as the strategists say. Angelides has relentlessly pounded Schwarzenegger as little more than a neatly trimmed beard for George W. Bush, but to little avail. “It’s true you have to differentiate yourself from the other guy,” says Allan Hoffenblum, co-editor of the nonpartisan political tip-sheet Target Book. “But you have to have a story that’s believable. Voters simply don’t believe what he says about Schwarzenegger.” One top national labor leader whose union has given millions to California’s Democratic campaigns agrees. “I think Phil’s been running the wrong campaign at the wrong time against the Schwarzenegger of two years ago but not the Schwarzenegger of today,” he says.