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by James Paterson
Thursday, Oct. 09, 2003 at 1:21 AM
A few months back I wrote a short piece arguing that the Republicans would win the recall vote, unless they gave up their attempt to salvage Davis's position. I sent that piece to Buzzflash, which chose not to publish it. Now my forecasts have been proven sound. When will Democrats learn?
Here is the text of a piece I wrote about two months ago in which I correctly forecast what would happen in the recall if the Democrats did not instantly abandon their foolish quest to salvage Davis's position.
I sent it to the popular pro-Democratic website Buzzflash.com, which chose not to publish it. Instead, the website published stories that only gave Democrats reason to think that the Davis strategy might just work. Now that events transpired exactly as I forecast, I am starting to wonder whether Buzzflash is a Republican front rather than the progressive website it claims to be.
Read this article now, guys, and tell me whether it might have made a difference:
DEBACLE LOOMING FOR CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATS
With the Reagan victory of 1966, California became a Republican-dominated state. Since the early 1980s, however, it has grown heavily Democratic - a shift that is markedly at odds with the strong conservative trend that has captured national politics since 1984. According to Democratic party strategist Bill Carrick, the Democratic advantage in California is anywhere between four and ten percentage points.
But as one of the states with the highest number of electoral votes, California is too important for the Republicans to ignore. It is certainly central to any vision of a Republican lock on the White House for the next generation. However, the only way that the Republican minority can gain a hold of the state is by means of the recall taking place on October 7. The recall's rules make it possible for a minority candidate to win the governor’s office, so long as s/he gains more votes than any other single candidate.
Democrats are right to oppose the recall on principle. After all, Davis was only re-elected last November and the election will cost the state between million and million, compounding its current financial problems. But it is less the recall itself than the rules under which it is being conducted that poses a serious threat to the future of democracy in America. So long as there is a single high-profile Republican candidate, the conservative side of politics will remain relatively united.
The chances of a Republican contender defeating all rivals increased massively with Hollywood legend Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to run. It is already clear that, with Schwarzenegger in the race, the stakes have risen dramatically. The Austrian-born actor may be a feeble politician, as most commentators are well aware, but so was George W. Bush, and he remains firmly ensconced in the White House in the midst of the worst performing administration in living memory.
What will matter on October 7 is less Schwarzenegger’s political abilities (or lack thereof) than the fact that no alternative Republican candidate will have been allowed to get in his way. Darrell Issa has already backed out of the race, albeit with tears in his eyes, while Peter Ueberroth now feels obliged to run as an independent. Even though he is still not the only Republican on the ballot, Schwarzenegger’s name and popularity look like attracting the support of at least a quarter of the California electorate.
But while the right can be expected to stand squarely behind Schwarzenegger, the recall will fracture the left badly. Already, more than 190 candidates are on the ballot. What matters is not that so many candidates are running but that there is no single force on the anti-conservative side who is likely to attract as many votes as the Republican candidate. In this respect, Democratic strategy is badly flawed by the party’s decision to back incumbent governor Gray Davis to the hilt, a product of the illusion that the recall itself can be defeated.
The likelihood, however, is that Davis will be recalled. The August California Field Poll showed that only 22 percent of voters approve of the job Davis is doing. Fifty-eight percent of likely voters said they were in favor of removing Davis from office – a 7 percent increase from a poll taken the previous month. Yet California Democrats have made little effort to present a formidable alternative to Schwarzenegger's candidacy. Only Dianne Feinstein could win the state for the Democrats. According to an August 8 Times/CNN poll, if Feinstein ran, 22 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for her, compared to 20 percent for Schwarzenegger. Yet Feinstein is marching in step behind the party’s disastrous attempt to salvage Davis’s position and has declined to run.
If, as seems inevitable, the Democratic vote is split between Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, who the poll suggests would get only 15% of the votes, and other Democratic contenders - with considerable hemorrhaging of the Democratic vote to Peter Miguel Camejo of the Greens and independent Arianna Huffington - then a situation is likely to unfold in which no single Democratic candidate wins more votes than Schwarzenegger. This would bring about an outrageous result: even if the combined
Democratic/progressive/Green vote amounted to 75% of the total vote, the governorship would be ceded to a candidate who got just 25%.
But if Bustamante is the best the Democrats can offer, they had better rally behind him fast. The alternative is a debacle of the sort that, by fracturing the leftwing vote, handed conservative candidate Jacques Chirac the French presidency in 2001.
Democrats have been painfully slow to develop a realistic recall strategy because they seem to believe that salvaging Davis’s governorship is morally the right thing to do. Perhaps it is: but in the present circumstances Democrats cannot afford to go down in a blaze of glory doing the right thing. Too much is at stake.
California has 54 electoral votes, a fifth of the 270 needed to win the presidency. George Bush’s chances of winning re-election in 2004 depend heavily upon the opportunity to implement devious electoral strategies in California of the kind that Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris used to take Florida for the Bush campaign in 2000. Nothing less than the ‘Floridation’ of California in time for the 2004 election is at issue in the recall vote. If Democrats let the Republicans take California this year, they can say sweet bye bye to their chances of taking back the White House for a decade or more. It would not be overly alarmist to observe that October 7 may well go down in history as the Democratic party’s last stand against the country’s shift to corporate fascism.
What can be done to avert the disastrous consequences of the defeat that seems to be looming?
Assuming a Schwarzenegger victory, the only possible Democratic insurance policy against the state’s Floridation is, quite a simply, another recall. If Governor Schwarzenegger wins with even 30% of the vote, that is still significantly less than the proportion who, according to the Times/CNN poll, would prefer to keep Davis in office (35%). If Schwarzenegger is, in effect, less popular than the governor he ousted, then the Democrats would have every right to seek to remove him. Unless he was able to win more than 50% of the recall vote, his governorship would - under under present rules - be terminated. It may well be that the Democratic party will get it together to field a credible candidate for the governorship on the second attempt.
But this is admittedly an optimistic scenario. What’s more likely to occur is that, after the recall, the Republicans will change the law to prevent any further such initiatives. In the weeks after Governor Schwarzenegger takes office, we should be prepared for announcements to the effect that the recall has been an ‘unedifying’ and ‘divisive’ episode in California politics, and that the relevant law will have to be amended lest the state degenerates into a never ending series of ‘partisan’ debacles that only distract attention from the state’s fiscal crisis.
Do I think the Republicans would stoop so low as to make unavailable to the Democrats a strategy they had exploited to benefit themselves? Yes, I do.
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