If anything, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plunge into California politics could turn into a booster rocket for former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. In what looks like a breakaway lead, Dean is ahead in both New Hampshire and Iowa, and is buoyed by an imaginative Internet-based fundraising drive across 89 different websites. Another Seabiscuit? Too early to tell, but looking stronger every day. His nearest contender, opportunistic Massachusetts senator John Kerry, is fading and needs to dig into his wife’s ketchup money to stay in the running.
Professional pols of both parties are afraid of Schwarzenegger because, like Jesse Ventura, he wrenches politics from their sweaty grasp, turning carefully calculated polls and media operations into nonsense. As of Monday, journalistic efforts to nail Schwarzenegger yielded only news of his sale of Phillip Morris at a loss in 2000, a woeful Columbus, Ohio, suburban mall, and tons of dough pumped into the Catholic Church, including a house for an archbishop.
The big fear is that Schwarzenegger will suck political money—especially Hollywood money—away from other struggling Dem politicians into California recall candidates, in a mad effort to prevent the bodybuilder from becoming governor.
“The recall is going to overshadow the 2004 presidential race in every regard for the next several months at least,” Steve Weiss of the Center for Responsive Politics told the Voice on Monday. “This could affect the efforts of the Democratic presidential candidates to fundraise and even to generate attention in general.”
Is this all a Karl Rove plot? In April Rove met with Schwarzenegger, who was considering running for governor in 2006. But maybe Rove had other ideas.
“I think we, as Democrats, are going to have a very difficult time defeating Arnold,” San Francisco mayor Willie Brown told CNN last week. “The Republican Party and the White House are literally orchestrating now this whole thing. They understand that in 2004, they need to destabilize California. . . . They don’t think they’ll win it, but with Arnold at the helm they’re in a position to do incredible damage. This is an opportunity for them, not unlike what they were attempting to do in Texas, not unlike what they did in Florida when they first got the presidency. So don’t misread this.”
Meanwhile, Dean has been moving fast, Kerry flounders, and Lieberman has become the flack for the Democratic Leadership Council and its stupid campaign to tag Dean as far left. Edwards is nowhere. Gephardt lives in some time past. Graham, the best positioned of the lot to take on Bush, can’t get it together. Kucinich, Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton are dead meat.
Dean finally has name recognition (Time and Newsweek covers), and TV producers are clamoring for him above all the others. Attacks by Lieberman et al. on how Dean is dragging the party down with “radical” posturing make a fool out of Lieberman and alienate voters. As Craig Crawford of Congressional Quarterly points out, charges that Dean is a flaming radical yield newspaper investigations showing him to be a “not so liberal” governor and remaking him as a mainstream Dem, which just bolsters his support.
Additional reporting: Phoebe St John
“Der Vild, Vild Vest! Arnold Rides In With His Own Brand of Machine” by Michael Musto
“The Fringe on Top: Extremists Help the GOP Muscle In on the Golden State” by Rick Perlstein
“Shlock ‘N’ Roll: Sources Confirm Schwarzenegger Candidacy Really Just an Elaborate Joke.” A cartoon by Ward Sutton