Schwarzenegger Declares He's Running for Governor Again

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 17, 2005

SAN DIEGO, Sept. 16 -- Declaring "I am here as your warrior," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Friday that he will seek reelection in 2006, hoping to reverse a months-long slide in the polls and rejuvenate his campaign to pass three controversial ballot initiatives in November.

Girding for the toughest battle of his fledgling political career, the action-hero-turned-Republican politician came here -- the one major California city where his poll numbers have not plummeted -- and told a hand-picked crowd of 200: "I'm going to follow through with this. I'm not in here for three years. I'm in here for seven years."

Schwarzenegger's announcement was made less than two years after he roared to power on the back of a historic gubernatorial 2003 recall election in which he promised to end the poisonous partisanship in the state capital. Instead, Schwarzenegger has come to be seen as a partisan figure in his own right, who has struggled to reach accommodation with the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Schwarzenegger's advisers urged him to announce his reelection plans early, claiming it will help to raise enough money to counter what they estimate will be a $50 million onslaught of negative ads against the ballot initiatives. Schwarzenegger's aides also announced Friday that the governor would contribute millions of dollars of his personal money to the initiative campaign.

"The governor believes in putting his own money where his mouth is," said Mike Murphy, one of the governor's chief strategists.

Schwarzenegger came to power backed by Republicans and Democrats alienated by the politics-as-usual climate in Sacramento. He spent his first year hammering out a bipartisan budget compromise and yanking California's finances -- with a debt of $22 billion -- back from the brink of disaster. Then in January, at his State of the State speech, Schwarzenegger turned his sights on the powerful public employee unions whose influence over the legislature, he argued, has stymied meaningful restructuring of government.

He demanded the power to impose across-the-board cuts when spending exceeds revenue and vowed to overhaul the state pension system, tighten tenure requirements for schoolteachers, reduce the number of nurses at hospitals and give an independent panel of judges, not the legislature, the power to draw congressional district boundaries.

The governor was forced to back away from several of his proposals, but three -- on the budget, teacher tenure and redistricting -- ended up on the Nov. 8 ballot. Along the way, Schwarzenegger gave his rivals an opportunity to paint him not as an opponent of the unions but as a foe of the nurses, teachers, firefighters and policemen that they represent.

There is little doubt that his star power has faded. His positive press -- from the New Yorker to Vanity Fair -- has evaporated. In the latest Field Poll, 36 percent of registered voters say they think he is doing a good job, the lowest rating since he took office. And Republican loyalists criticize him openly, trafficking in rumors -- or, perhaps, dreams -- of an impending shake-up in his campaign and administration.

"Arnold seems inept," said Allan Hoffenblum, a GOP strategist based in Los Angeles. "What is he doing running around having town meetings? His campaign seems completely unfocused."

Hoffenblum said the governor's administration, bedeviled by flagging polls and dogged at each destination -- including Friday's visit to downtown San Diego -- by demonstrating nurses, teachers, firefighters and police officers, has descended into a "bunker mentality," isolating the candidate from real voters.

One senior Republican Party official mused that if Schwarzenegger was serious about the fight, he should wade back into the fray and wield his high-octane charisma to win back popular support. "He needs to go out there and get people throwing eggs at him again," the official quipped, recalling the incident in Long Beach on Sept. 3, 2003, when Schwarzenegger was smacked on the left shoulder with an egg and, unruffled, went on campaigning.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company