Californians voting in the Demo- cratic primary for governor June 6 have two major choices for their nominee:
Choice "A", State Treasurer Phil Angelides, wants to raise taxes on the wealthy, legalize gay marriage, and give driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. He's a staunch liberal who calls himself the "anti-Arnold."
Choice "B", State Controller Steve Westly, wants to reinvent how government spends money, delivers services, and provides benefits. He's a fiscal conservative who describes himself as "a different kind of Democrat."
Whichever Democratic contender wins the primary will take on Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in November. Recently, political observers considered the timing ripe for a Democrat to unseat Mr. Schwarzenegger, whose approval ratings have been in the cellar for months. Mr. Westly, because of his moderate views that are more in line with the state's general election voters, has been thought have a better chance to defeat the governor, say analysts and some Democrats. In a head-to-head match up, Schwarzenegger and Westly were tied at 43 percent in an April California Field Poll.
Westly, who taught public management at Stanford University, made millions as an executive at eBay. He used his personal fortune to campaign for state controller in 2002, and has reportedly spent $32.5 million of his own money on the race.
Mr. Angelides is a millionaire, but does not have pockets as deep. He was elected state treasurer in 1998, and is a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. He's been endorsed by the state Democratic Party and some of the state's biggest newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times.
Although both candidates are considered competent, neither one is charismatic, and neither has inspired Democratic voters or many politicians in the Democratic party faithful.
"Californians don't really care about the June primary, and it may set a record for low turnout," says Robert Stern, director of the Center for Government Studies. "We have had too many elections ... [and] the governor has had great press lately," says Mr. Stern.
"The Democrats biggest problem is that neither candidate excites the people or the press. They just don't have the stature of the governor," he adds.
Current polling shows Westly and Angelides running neck and neck, with each receiving a third of voter support, according to the Los Angeles Times. Another third of voters are undecided. In April, Westly led in all the public polls, the Times reported.
That both Democrats have been attacking each other is not helping their candidacies, political analysts say, and is undermining a golden opportunity for the party. In several debates, the two have lashed out at each other with such invective, and handing Republican strategists ammunition for the general election campaign. Negative TV ads costing millions of dollars have also broadcast the Democrats' weaknesses.
Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger has no serious Republican opponent, and his standing with voters is improving lately. An April California Field Poll showed that 45 percent of likely voters say they are "not inclined to reelect him," but that number is shrinking.
With a lackluster primary expected, the fall election will likely come down to a referendum on Schwarzenegger, political observers say. He's recently won public plaudits for putting an historically massive state-improvement bond of $37.3 billion on the November ballot. State fiscal fortunes have also turned around as a result of an influx of tax revenue.
To woo voters, Schwarzenegger has begun talking about a different issue each week, including education, prisons, environmental reform, and shoring up state levees.
He has taken a more conciliatory attitude with state lawmakers of late - an about-face from his previous habit of bypassing the legislature by taking issues directly to voters.
Schwarzenegger also brought in a Democrat as his chief of staff, and teamed up with other high-profile state Democrats - Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata - on education and state infrastructure improvements. Schwarzenegger's actions between now and November will help determine how Californians vote, Stern and others say.
"These guys have been basking in each other's sunshine," says Tony Quinn, a political analyst in Sacramento. "Some of the state's top Demo- crats don't find [Schwarzenegger] so horrible that they want him out. They don't mind having him there while they control the legislature. They realize they are big shots with things the way they are, and are littler shots if the state has a Democratic governor."