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Look Back: Someone is Gaining On You

Jun
7
2006

Steve Westly’s bid to become the Democratic nominee for governor – aka Arnold’s next meal – wasn’t successful. But since he lost that nomination by less than 100,000 votes in a state with more than 10 million voters, his defeat is worth more than the usual “loser” brush-off. Turn out was low, hence the small number. But even that fact bears a look: Politics as usual is politics that bores and frustrates voters.
There are constant cries – pleas, really – for some sort of third party to rise out of the dissatisfaction that Democrats and Republicans have with the folks running their political futures. If the results of this primary don’t demonstrate how strong that feeling is getting within the Democratic Party, I don’t know what does. This movement and its supporters – which I refer to as Progressive libertarians – is both frustrated and interested in politics. Elements of this thinking – which is moderate, business-minded and not very interested in political mechanics – form the basis of John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenger’s campaigns. And while many of the folks who I consider Progressive libertarians trend Democratic, as the pollsters like to say, their moderate message (carried mostly by former Virginia governor Mark Warner) is one many Democrats are reluctant to hear.
In his campaign, Westly treated California for what it is, not what he wants it to be. He ran a campaign for a Red state with Blue trim, ignored the party establishment which lined up behind traditional Democrat Phil Angelides and went to small towns and cities up and down the state’s interior – places where Schwarzenegger triumphs – to see voters. That’s why his poll numbers showed him beating Angeledes earlier in the race. It’s also why the lazy California political press was slow to figure out what he was doing.
But it’s also one of the reasons Westly’s considered a boring candidate. In trying to appeal to the large and vaguely unsettled voters known as moderates, Westly was, well, bland. He tried to have his cake – his status as a party insider – and eat it too – be known as a business-minded outside-the-party guy. He emphasized competence and good government which translated from the business world appeal to shareholders but leave voters a bit nonplussed. This is a tough act to pull off and if Westly were a more charismatic guy – and we’re talking here charisma on the level of a Clinton or Schwarzenegger – he may well have gotten the job done.
He didn’t. But that doesn’t mean Westly’s done. Unlike a lot of tech millionaires, he actually likes politics; he keeps coming back and slogging it out. He’s doing what many wealthy and ambitious men don’t have the patience to do: He’s running for state office, greeting folks who can help him, helping them. He’s running, in other words, for his next office while campaigning for this one. Very smart. Because if all goes as expected, Schwarzenegger only gets one more term and Angelides is going to end this year looking like a big, fat loser.
See, Westly’s strategy can be repeated. Why do you think Gov. Schwarzenegger’s getting on a bus to tour the state today? ’cause he has stock in Greyhound? Westly’s appeal to the same folks who supported Schwarzenegger wasn’t bad politics as Angelides tried to intimate; it’s just not effective Democratic Party politics. But that’s a temporary state of affairs. And that’s the real lesson here.
Why? Because a fair number of loyal Democrats preferred Westly’s message to Angelides. They thought it could – and polls showed it might – have defeated Schwarzenegger. I don’t think that’ the case. But I do think that we’re seeing the beginnings of a trend toward moderation among rank-and-file Democrats. And that has bearing for the fall and 2008.
But don’t try telling that to California Democrats. Like their counterparts across the country, Democrats in this state are pretty oblivious to the new rising tone of moderation. They listen to the fanatics on the blogs – on the left and the right – they are captive to the unions and they believe their virtuous moral argument will triumph and disguise their lack of new ideas, smart thinking or just plain attractive candidates. It won’t. The only good news? .
Angelides, who is a good campaigner (better in many respects, than Westly) won’t defeat Schwarzenegger. Why? Because Gov. Terminator isn’t going to run as a Republican – they have the same problems as Democrats but their candidates are shrewder about their strategy – but as conservative Democrat who just happens to call himself by another name.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:09 AM | Permalink

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