California recall may reverberate in 2004 contest
Help or hindrance for Bush?
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- California voters' ouster of their second-term governor for a movie star could indicate that President Bush's re-election bid will be tougher than expected in 2004, observers said Wednesday.
Others, however, said the recall could breathe new life into Republican hopes of capturing the largest Electoral College prize next year.
California voters turned to "Terminator" star Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, in Tuesday's recall election, tossing Democrat Gov. Gray Davis out of office just a year into his second term amid concerns over a sluggish economy and anger at an unpopular tax increase.
"This fundamental anger at business as usual, that basically was the downfall of Gray Davis, is across the nation. It isn't just in California," said commentator Arianna Huffington, who dropped her own bid to become California governor as an independent to back Davis' unsuccessful campaign. "I think it's going to be very interesting to see how George Bush deals with it."
Another potential complication for Republicans is that it will be harder to pin California's budget ills on Democrats once one of their own is at the helm.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, called Davis's recall "a sad night for our state and a sad night for our country."
"It shouldn't be that public officials have to watch their backs every moment for fear of recall," she said. "We have a system where we elect people, the public holds them accountable in subsequent elections, and now we have a cavalier notion that a recall without just cause is OK."
Pelosi said Bush should "take heed" of the California results, saying that some of the same complaints lodged against Davis -- that he presided over a large budget shortfall and a sluggish economy -- could be applied to the president.
"I think the message in California is a message to President Bush: Stop your reckless economic policies that are resulting in record joblessness in this country and record deficits for the American people that make it very difficult for us to grow jobs in our states," she said.
But Schwarzenegger capitalized on a combination of disgruntlement and celebrity that may be unlikely to occur elsewhere. California lawmakers wrestled with a $38 billion budget shortfall this year. One step in the process of trimming that deficit to $8 billion was allowing the state's auto registration tax to triple shortly before the election.
"When you see the exit poll, that's one of the principal reasons that people lost confidence in Gray Davis," said Bill Simon, Davis's Republican challenger in 2002 and another former recall candidate.
Simon said the recall could indicate a "sea change" for Republican fortunes in the state. And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, another member of California's congressional delegation, said Schwarzenegger's bid "has changed the entire dynamics of politics in California."
"We had 2,500 new volunteers in Orange County alone, who had never volunteered to do anything political before, and they were out hanging things on the doorknobs and handing out literature and making telephone calls," Rohrabacher told Fox News. "That's an incredible -- if we would have had 200 people volunteer in the last election, new people, we'd have thought that was terrific."
Bush called Schwarzenegger to offer his congratulations Wednesday afternoon, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, telling the governor-elect "that he looked forward to working with him." McClellan said Bush would like to meet with Schwarzenegger "at some point in the future."
The recall leaves the country's four largest states -- New York, Florida, Texas and California -- run by Republican governors. But California is heavily Democratic -- former Vice President Al Gore carried the state by more than 1.3 million votes in 2000 -- and analysts say Bush still faces an uphill battle for its 55 electoral votes.
Peter Beinart, editor of the New Republic and a CNN contributor, said California "has a tradition of these kind of right-wing populist revolts" dating back to Proposition 13 in 1978, which capped property taxes. Despite that, "I still think California remains a very liberal Democratic state," he said.