Invested in Angelides

So, according to the LA Times and the San Jose Mercury News, the California Democratic Party has figured out recently that this gentleman Democrats nominated for governor, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, is encountering unexpected trouble and might lose the election.

It’s hard to figure out how a campaign that started with such seemingly unstoppable momentum could run into a rocky patch, but in politics, like in life, sometimes the unexpected happens. It’s starting to look like the Republican incumbent, Arnold Schwarzenegger, might just eke out a victory — a development few party activists could have foreseen back in March, when Angelides seized the nomination.

Moreover, if Angelides is somehow defeated, it might have an impact on the fortunes of other Democratic statewide candidates. Imagine!

Worried Democrats said Sunday that Phil Angelides failed to achieve the breakthrough he needed in the sole gubernatorial debate and expressed fear that his campaign’s trajectory threatened others on the statewide ticket.

Fellow Democrat John Garamendi, in a tight race for lieutenant governor against Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock, has started to distance himself from Angelides. He said in a television interview aired Sunday that he disagreed with an Angelides plan to raise taxes on corporations and the well-to-do.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Garamendi, now insurance commissioner, said on KNBC’s “News Conference.”

Though few thought Angelides did poorly in the debate, there was wide agreement that Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger benefited the most from Saturday night’s allotted 55-minute session, largely because nothing occurred to change the essential dynamic of the race.

Angelides, the state treasurer, entered the evening desperately needing to redefine a contest that by all measures — polling, fundraising, party morale — was going badly for him. And he needed the lift not just for himself, but for fellow Democratic candidates counting on him to spur a strong turnout Nov. 7.

Okay, with my tongue now excavated from my cheek, I just want to know one thing. Angelides won the nomination from a moderate, pro-business candidate, Steve Westly, because a group of labor leaders and other party regulars organized an independent campaign on Angelides’ behalf. They spent a lot on it, and made a heroic effort. Their hard work paid off.

Why did they do this?

Angelides is the same guy in October 2006 that he’s been his entire public life. The Dems always do opposition research on their own candidates, so they knew he was vulnerable on the issue of tax hikes. The positions the Schwarzenegger campaign is throwing in his face were promulgated over the course of his career.

In fact, that’s Angelides’ defense, essentially to say, “I didn’t support those tax increases all at the same time.” But he’s not making much of a case for what he’d spend that money on. He’s running basically for the status quo — for letting lots of busy government employees keep doing things Democrats have faith are worthwhile. He’s misread the public mood. The public doesn’t think all of what state employees are doing is worthwhile — and hasn’t felt that way since the Gray Davis years.

In this story, the Times says California has “a left-moderate tilt.” I agree. But the left side is mostly about social issues, specific policy issues like the environment, and national issues like the war in Iraq. The moderate side of California’s political persona still leans right on the issues of taxes and government expenditures: Lower taxes, no deficits, keep spending under control, don’t touch Proposition 13. The sky-high cost of living is a factor that dominates most Californians’ daily lives. Few believe they aren’t being taxed enough. Even relatively painless bond issues lately have failed, unless they are for schools.

It is on taxes and spending where Angelides is weakest — and yet, many in the party’s leadership decided he was the candidate they wanted to see at the top of the ticket.

Now, some Democrats talk about a “triage,” not throwing good money after bad, focusing resources on down-ticket Democrats who Angelides is hurting. But when was it good money? When did this candidate look like a worthy challenger to a superstar incumbent, and to whom? Would they care to explain now what they were thinking back then?

One thought on “Invested in Angelides

  1. I’m not sure I’d agree with the “left-moderate tilt” line – I’ve always seen California as more of a libertarian state (note the small l). But other than that, yeah, you’re spot on.

    Also, it’s nice to see that some of the other commenters at DT are bloggers.

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