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Running the Numbers

"Schwarzenegger's overwhelming victory quieted previous speculation that Democrats might immediately launch a recall campaign against the new governor." -- L.A. Times, October 9, 2003

By Frank Gruber

Please, no more recalls, but ... an "overwhelming victory?"

As of Saturday, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, the No votes on recall -- the equivalent of voting for Gray Davis -- totalled 3,668,076, or 44.7 percent of the 8,204,338 cast. On the second part of the ballot, Arnold Schwarzenegger had 3,850,804 votes, or 48.7 percent, of the approximately 8,000,000 votes cast for whom should succeed Davis.

That's a difference between Davis and Schwarzenegger of only 182,728 votes, less than 2.5 percent of the total number of voters who chose either Davis or Schwarzenegger.

Or consider this: 4,536,262 voters voted Yes to recall Davis. If you assume -- and it's a reasonable assumption -- that at least 95 percent of Tom McClintock's 1,053,907 voters had voted Yes before they voted for him, and you subtract that 1,001,211 from the total Yes vote, that leaves only 3,535,051 Yes votes available to vote for Schwarzenegger.

Even assuming all 3,535,051 voted for Schwarzenegger, that means more than 300,000 of Schwarzenegger's 3,850,804 voters originally voted for No on recall -- meaning that more than the margin of difference between the once and future governors preferred Davis.

It's true that the 55-45 vote against Davis was within the realm of what in American politics is considered a decisive, if not landslide, margin.

But before Karl Rove decides to pump lots of President Bush's 2004 resources into California, I expect he will reflect not only on Schwarzenegger's equivocal results, but also that the same voters who rejected Davis rejected anti-affirmative action Prop. 54 by nearly two-to-one.

* * *

Aside from an overwhelming sense that Gray Davis was a political lifer who deserved to be paroled, I don't see anything "overwhelming" about the election.

If anything, I see more mixed signals.

California is still a Democratic state, but only because the Republican Party rejects the social values of Californians.

If the Republicans ran more candidates who were pro-choice, pro-gay rights, reasonable on gun control, and spoke passionately about education and opportunity -- assuming they could find any such candidates outside of Brentwood -- then California would be a Republican state.

Because as it is now, those people the Democrats consider themselves as representing, don't consider the Democrats to be their representatives, except when it comes to issues of personal freedom and general fairness.

People who believe the biggest problems in California are the problems of working class and poor people currently dominate the California Democratic Party. I agree, but the decisive voters in California don't.

This might not matter so much politically, but the party has done a poor job of inspiring any great number of those who presumably do agree -- i.e., working class and poor people -- to vote and to vote for Democrats.

If Democrats want to continue to define themselves as the party of the underprivileged, then they need to persuade the privileged that investing in the infrastructure that benefits the poor and working class -- education, housing, transportation -- also benefits them.

* * *

Mostly, voters want advocates.

Consider Davis. During the electricity crisis, he was "responsible." He did everything he could to keep the electricity flowing. Which he did.

Gee, thanks Gray.

Imagine if instead of being responsible, Davis had acted like an outraged populist. Imagine if he had refused to pay extortionate prices for power, and had let the lights go out?

That's right, rolling blackouts every day, but no bonds to pay the price for those extra kilowatts.

Sure, everyone would have said he was destroying California's business climate, but today, given what we know about Enron, he'd be a hero. He'd be the terminator.

* * *

It's possible, if Davis had transcended his pique about Cruz Bustamante breaking ranks, and had united with Bustamante on a joint campaign emphasizing their achievements, they might have been able to persuade voters that the sky was not falling. But on a straight up and down vote, it was always going to be hard for Davis to get a majority.

The root of the recall was the 47.3 percent of the vote Davis received in 2002. Starting with less than a majority, it was unlikely Davis could add votes in the recall process, and he didn't. Those 3,668,076 No votes last week are more or less the same as the 3.53 million votes Davis received in 2002.

Consider the Green vote. In 2002 Peter Camejo received 393,036 votes. Last week he had 218,843. That difference of 174,193 is eerily close to the 182,728 votes that separate the No votes on recall from Schwarzenegger's vote.

This is not surprising. In 2002 Davis didn't have majority support, and he wasn't likely to get it when voters had a high-profile social liberal alternative.

* * *

Now what? Schwarzenegger, like Davis, has been elected with less than a majority. While a new recall is unlikely, what is Schwarzenegger going to do to get reelected, with a majority, in 2006?

By then, if Schwarzenegger hasn't accomplished some reasonable percentage of his goals, his celebrity will have worn thin. He has a lot of motivation to become a successful governor. To do that, he needs to get the wheels of government turning. He needs to make Sacramento relevant.

It may turn out to be significant that the electorate that voted Davis out and Schwarzenegger in, turned down Prop. 53, the latest attempt to handcuff the governor and the legislature from governing. Maybe the voters have realized that all this ballot box government has been a bad idea.

In that case, perhaps the mood is right for Sacramento to take back its birthright and start governing.

Strangely, all the parties up there have the motivation to cooperate with each other and make the system work, so that when they go back to the voters, they can fight about who should get the credit for success, rather than the blame for failure.

Democrats, with their big majorities in the legislature, need to show they are relevant.

Republicans need to show that they are more than mere obstructionists, and that moderates are welcome. They also owe Schwarzenegger a lot more than he owes them.

And, as mentioned above, Schwarzenegger needs to succeed. To do so, he will either push a few right-wing Republicans to the center, and cooperate with the Democrats, or entice a large number of Democrats over the center line to join the Republicans.

There are lots of reasons everyone should cooperate.

Why am I not optimistic?

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