"The ultimate power is always with the people," says Schwarzenegger. He has gone around his legislature and taken his case to the people again with several issues on the ballot, including one to limit state spending; another to lengthen the time required for teacher tenure; and another forcing public sector unions to get their members' approval before using dues for politics.
Schwarzenegger strategically withheld his media blitz until late in the campaign while the opposition outspent him for months and he watched his ratings plummet. However, most recent polls show Schwarzenegger's four initiatives inching ahead. A sweep for the governor could suggest he'll be back.
Another national bell weather issue in California, unrelated to the governor's agenda, is a ballot question asking voters to approve a controversial law requiring parental notification before an abortion can be performed on a minor.
Death penalty opponents are watching the governor's race in Virginia closely.
Republican Jerry Kilgore, a former attorney general, is running against Democrat Lt. Governor Tim Kaine. The state is largely conservative. It went for President Bush by 10 percentage points a year ago.
Kilgore has painted Kaine as anti-death penalty. He went so far as to suggest Kaine would even have opposed the death penalty for Hitler. Kaine admitted he has a faith-based objection to the death penalty, but has tried to blunt the attacks by promising follow the law and enforce the death penalty as governor. Capital punishment is the hot button issue, but a big tax increase, which was supported by Kaine, is very much on voters' minds. Kilgore opposed it but has not said he would repeal it. The two men are neck-and-neck in the polls.
New Jersey voters have been subjected to a bitter campaign for governor between Democrat U.S. Senator John Corzine and Republican businessman Doug Forrester. Both men have spent millions of dollars of their own money on nasty and personal campaigns. The candidates have made the issue corruption and property taxes, which polls indicate are even more important issue for New Jersey voters.
Convincing the voters which one is most likely to lower taxes may ultimately decide this too-close-to-call election.
PAUL GIGOT: Jason, let's start with California. The beginning of this year, Governor Schwarzenegger called this the "Year of Reform" in California and put these initiatives in play, first with the legislature, now on the ballot. Yet they seem to all be in trouble. What went wrong?
JASON RILEY: Well, first of all I think we should keep in mind that some of these polls are the same ones that had Arnold losing the recall election in '03 two weeks out. So this is not an exact science. But also, these poll numbers, we need to give credit where it's due. These poll numbers are also a function of the effectiveness of the opposition in demonizing Arnold over the past year. Fifty million dollars spent by the teachers unions; organized labor in general, $100 million. And that reflects how substantive these reforms are.
Arnold is going for the jugular, so to speak here. I mean, he is hitting the unions in their fund-raising capabilities by saying, "Wwith paycheck protection you have to get permission from your union members before you spend their dues money on political activities." He's going after the political redistricting, telling politicians, "You cannot draw your districts to protect your incumbencies." These are big issues.
GIGOT: Sounds to me like what you are describing is the revenge of the political class. All the people who rely on power, on having power in Sacramento, and on taxpayers' dollars and redistributing them.
DAN HENNINGER: You can draw a line down the center of California and on the coastal areas it is essentially a blue state. The other half is a red state. The blue part is what represents the political interest. What has been going on in California is very interesting. Since 1990, 660,000 people have moved from the coastal areas to the middle of the state -- Bakersfield, Riverside -- what's called the "Inland Empire." They are trying to get away from the high costs that Schwarzenegger himself is trying to address with these propositions.
GIGOT: One of the things that is most surprising to me is this redistricting proposition, because in some ways it is a good government proposition. The LA TIMES is in favor of it, newspaper people of left and the right are for it, and the public ought to be for it in the sense that it encourages more political competition. In the last election, out of 53 congressional seats in California, 51 of the winners won with more than 60 percent of the vote. Now that is not an election. That is Iraq under the Saddam regime. Why wouldn't they want more competitive elections?
RILEY: For Republicans who like to brag about their ideas, this is pretty hypocritical because it shows they don't really believe that their ideas will win voters over, that they need to fix these elections.
GIGOT: Because Republicans in the state who are incumbents are also opposed to this, is what you are saying.
JASON RILEY: Yes, everyone has been opposed to it. But I will say that this is what Arnold has in his favor. This election, this special election next week, only has initiatives on the ballot. There are no candidates. The last time that happened was 1993, and you got very, very low turnout, which tends to help Republicans.
STEVE MOORE: Two years ago when Arnold took over he didn't do everything right, but he did a lot of right things in terms of pulling California's butt out of this fire of $25 billion of budget deficits where the state was just running amok, and it was headed towards bankruptcy. It is almost as if Californians have such a short memory they think, "Okay, everything's okay now. We can go back to these crazy ways of doing business that led to the crisis in the first place."
GIGOT: Let's shift to some of these other elections, Steve. Virginia is a conservative state, but the Democrat has moved ahead of the Republican in the polls in that state for governor. What is wrong with the Republican Party in that state?
MOORE: This is going to be a crushing loss for Republicans if they lose this race. It is a red state. It is a state that Republicans should win. Bush won it by 10 points in the last election. What is going on in this state is a nice example of why the Republicans can implode as a party. The tax issue is still a live wire issue. You can see in some of those ads we showed, the Democrat, Tim Kaine, is running to the right of the Republican on taxes. A lot of the voters don't know who's the anti-tax candidate in this race. Kilgore has not taken a no-tax pledge. Kaine, the Democrat, has also been more in favor of cutting property taxes, which is the big live wire issue in a lot of states.
RILEY: A good point to make on why this has national implications -- particularly for the way Democrats think -- is because Warner, the current governor, two years ago instituted the biggest tax hike in state history in Virginia. If Democrats think that they can raise taxes and go to the polls and not suffer any consequences, trust me, other Democrats around the country will be keeping an eye on this.
HENNINGER: A quick note to that. Having defaulted on taxes, Kilgore is now running against illegal immigration in Virginia. Now to be sure, illegal immigration is a big issue for Republicans. But if they give up their other issues and have to fall back on running on just that, they are going to lose.
GIGOT: One of the things about immigration over the years, if you look at it as an issue, it always looks better in the polls than it turns out being in terms of getting people to the ballot box and voting. So it will be a warning to Republicans, if they run on this issue and lose, that it is not quite the great political issue that they think it is in the rest of the country.
What about other national implications for these races? We hear a lot about the fact that President Bush is down in the polls, he is a drag on the ticket for the Republicans. Is this going to be an indication of Bush's standing?
HENNINGER: I think it is. It is all pretty much connected. The Republican base was dispirited, of course, by the Harriet Miers nomination. The spending in Washington certainly has had a tremendous effect on them and you need something to energize the Republican party as a counterweight to that. Unless the Republicans, unless Bush gets up and running on something like tax reform, they will just be swept out to sea.
GIGOT: I would point out, though, that in 2001 Republicans did lose both of these governors races. Yet in 2002, they bounced back and did well, and of course they ended up winning again in 2004.
MOORE: If the Democrats win both of these races in Virginia and New Jersey, the left is going to try to say, "See, the voters don't want the Bush agenda of lower taxes." That is exactly the wrong message. John Corzine has spent tens of millions of dollars on this race and his Republican opponent, Forrester, has only spent a fraction of that. He has erased about a 15-point lead by attacking Corzine on voting against Bush tax cuts, on voting for all these tax increases.
So I think that the tax issue is still very much a live wire issue.
HENNINGER: All three of these races are essentially about protecting the state legislatures in these states, the status quo. Certainly that is true in New Jersey, and certainly that is true in California, literally, and it is in Virginia as well. It is hard to believe voters are voting to just keep those horrible state capitals operating the way they are.
GIGOT: So it really could be, and this would be ironic, that the Republicans next week, after the elections, if they go as the polls now suggest, it could be pointing to, believe it or not, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, re-election as the demonstration of the one Republican victory.