Money, Muscle Come to the Fore
The Democratic race for governor pits Westly's cash versus Angelides' high-profile backers.
SAN FRANCISCO â€" With just six weeks left in
their primary race for governor, the fight between
Democrats Steve Westly and Phil Angelides is turning into a
test of money versus institutional muscle.
For months, Angelides, the state treasurer, was perceived
as the front-runner in the contest, collecting a string of
high-profile endorsements, ignoring Westly and campaigning
against Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as though the
Democratic race had been decided.
But now Angelides acknowledges he has fallen behind Westly,
the state controller, whose wide-open wallet has kept him
on the television airwaves nonstop since January. Having
earned tens of million of dollars in the dot-com boom,
Westly has said he will spend whatever he considers
necessary between now and the June 6 vote.
Calling himself the underdog, Angelides has begun to
aggressively attack Westly at campaign stops and through a
blitz of e-mails from his camp â€" an assault
likely to carry over to the airwaves before the contest is
over. Westly, as the new front-runner, has urged Angelides
to forswear negative advertising but vowed to "respond and
respond decisively" if his opponent fires first.
Neither candidate is well known, making the contest
extremely fluid. On the Republican side, Schwarzenegger is
running without significant opposition in the GOP primary.
Opinion polls show that a third or more of Democratic
voters are undecided, and those leaning toward Angelides or
Westly could easily change their minds and switch.
"Whatever happens from this day forward will be a
â€¦ lot more consequential than what's
gone on before," said Bill Carrick, a longtime Democratic
strategist who is neutral in the primary.
Still, the two candidates staked their strategies early in
the race and, with general accord on most issues, the
outcome could greatly depend on which of them pursued the
Angelides, a former state party chairman who spent years
helping elect others to office, has worked hard to emerge
as the favorite of Democratic insiders and the party's
major interest groups and allies. After ceasing his TV
advertising earlier this month to save money, the candidate
returns to the airwaves today with a spot that features his
daughters touting Angelides' support from the Sierra Club,
teachers and firefighters.
Even though Angelides is a millionaire and may benefit from
outside groups airing advertisements on his behalf,
strategists for the campaign acknowledge he will probably
be outspent by Westly.
They expect to make up the difference, in part, through
high-profile endorsements and the kind of union backing
that powered Gray Davis to the Democratic nomination in
1998, when he faced two wealthy opponents.
Support for Angelides from Democrats like U.S. Sens. Dianne
Feinstein and Barbara Boxer sends a strong signal to party
loyalists trying "to sort these guys out," said Paul
Maslin, the campaign's pollster. And it underscores
Angelides' assertion that he is the true Democrat in the
race: "It makes the other guy into a Stevie-come-lately,"
Boxer and hometown Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of House
Democrats in Washington, appeared alongside Angelides last
week at a luncheon fundraiser here in San Francisco. The
two are co-chairing Angelides' campaign, along with
Feinstein and Assembly Speaker Fabian NuÃ±ez
of Los Angeles.
This weekend, Angelides will be bidding for the endorsement
of the state Democratic Party when loyalists gather in
Sacramento for their annual convention. The Angelides
campaign long considered the endorsement a significant
steppingstone for his candidacy. Lately, however, advisors
have said Angelides would be happy simply to outpoll Westly
among the more than 1,500 delegates, 60% of whom must agree
before an endorsement is made.
More important to Angelides may be the backing of organized
labor. Angelides has won the support of the California
Teachers Assn. and the California Labor Federation, whose
members were instrumental in routing Schwarzenegger in last
year's special election. Union leaders remain bitterly
opposed to Schwarzenegger.
Still, it is not clear how hard they will work to rally
their troops in the Democratic primary. In 1998, labor
unions were fighting Proposition 226, a measure to greatly
curtail their political clout, and Davis benefited from a
heavy turnout of concerned union members.
There is nothing on the June ballot to spur labor's
interest this time. Moreover, some union leaders say they
could get along just fine with either Angelides or Westly
in charge in Sacramento â€" a sentiment gaining
increased currency now that Westly has pulled ahead,
according to the most recent Field Poll.
"There's not the fire that I've seen in other years.
There's not the â€¦ work I've seen in
other years, where it was a real priority," said John A.
Perez, director of political affairs for United Food and
Commercial Workers Local 324, which represents 24,000
members in Orange and L.A. counties. "Most people have come
to realize either of those two guys is a huge improvement
over what we've got now. Many believe we're better off
keeping our powder dry to November."
Westly, meantime, is following in the steps of several
affluent candidates for state office who have met decidedly
mixed results over the years. Some â€" most
recently Republicans Michael Huffington and Bill Simon Jr.
â€" won their party's nominations, for U.S.
Senate and governor respectively, before losing in the
general election. By contrast, Al Checchi spent $40 million
seeking the 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nomination and
pulled ahead in the polls after an early burst of TV
advertising â€" as Westly has done
â€" before losing badly to Davis.
Garry South, who worked for Davis and now advises Westly,
said there is a major difference, however, between Checchi
and his current client: Westly already holds statewide
"People do not resent a wealthy candidate spending lots of
their own money," South said. Rather, voters are put off
when a candidate "comes popping out of a duck blind"
â€" as if from nowhere â€" "and
says they want to lead the nation's largest state."
Before making his fortune as an EBay executive, Westly
spent years as a Democratic activist, running for
California party chairman nearly 20 years ago. His more
recent government experience was the subtext for Westly's
appearance last week before the Sacramento Press Club,
where he discussed the state budget and tax collection
efforts to a wonkish fare-thee-well. "Let's move to bad
debt, one of my favorite topics," he exclaimed at one
Until now, the Democratic governor's race has been fairly
tame. Angelides, for the most part, has been content to
work the back rooms in pursuit of contributions and
endorsements, while Westly busied himself ironing the kinks
out of his candidacy in far-off campaign stops.
That will probably change as the two men start speaking to
bigger crowds and intensify their fight on the television
airwaves. Angelides no longer acts as though his Democratic
rival doesn't exist.
Said Maslin, Angelides' advisor: "This is now going to turn
on real ideas, real differences on where you go from here
and a real debate about the state's future."
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