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How powerful is Arnold’s endorsement?

Oh, sure, he’s the governator, an international superstar, a guy who made a mockery of Democrats’ voter registration edge twice. The Associated Press story says Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of John McCain tomorrow in Los Angeles is “giving a certain boost to the Republican presidential front-runner six days before California’s high-prize primary” and is “yet another setback for Mitt Romney.”

But consider a few things:

    (1.)Survey USA says the governor’s approval rating is at 47 percent, after having lingered in the 50s for all but one month since his November 2006 re-election. (The Field Poll put that number considerably higher in December, at 60 percent, so maybe this isn’t much of a consideration; on the other hand, that was before we were staring at a $14.5 billion deficit and 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts.)
    (2.)The California Republican primary is closed, meaning only registered Republicans can vote — no independents. And although this is a presidential year and turnout is expected to be high, closed party primaries tend to represent that party’s true believers, the ideological core, and less so the moderates. Yet both Schwarzenegger and McCain have made careers out of trying to secure not only their own party’s voters, but unaffiliated ones as well. (Of course, a closed primary didn’t seem to stop McCain from clinching Florida.)
    (3.)Some elements of the Republican Party are not so happy with Schwarzenegger right now. He has endorsed Proposition 93, the term-limits reform measure on next week’s ballot which his party staunchly opposes. He favors abortion rights, and although he has twice vetoed gay marriage, he has signed a slew of bills granting rights to domestic partners. Some have never been happy with his choice of advisers, including a Democratic chief of staff. Remember, Arnold Schwarzenegger has never had to win a Republican primary — he was elected in the raucous recall of 2003, and had no primary challenger in 2006.

Do I believe Schwarznegger will bring some votes McCain’s way? Yes. I’m quite sure any candidate would prefer to have this endorsement rather than see an opponent get it.

I also believe McCain will win in California; the latest polls show he has a substantial lead over Romney and Mike Huckabee, and most of the people who were planning on voting for Rudy Giuliani are more likely to migrate to McCain than to either of the others. California’s GOP primary isn’t winner-take-all — rather than the statewide popular vote winner getting all of the state’s delegates, the candidates are competing in each and every Congressional district; the winner in each district gets three delegates — that’s 159 — and then the statewide winner gets 11 more. I’m sure Romney and maybe even Huckabee might walk off with a few, but I’m betting McCain will get the lion’s share.

All I’m sayin’ is, maybe Arnold isn’t the powerful people-mover he once was — maybe his endorsement is far from making a big difference.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.