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Dan Schnur

Running From Behind

Arnold Schwarzennegger is running behind. So why is his campaign running like they’re ten points ahead?

I respect the people around him: I’ve worked with most of them and they’re a talented group that does very good work. But there’s a lack of urgency surrounding the initiative campaigns that doesn’t make any sense. Mike Murphy talks about having enough money to drop a "grand piano" at the end of the campaign, which is the right approach, especially when the other side has more money. Hopefully that piano is a message that can change the dynamic of the debate, because so far it seems like pretty standard stuff.

Schwarzenegger himself is saying the right things on the stump, although tying the special election back to the recall is something they should have suggested to him in January rather than August. The ads are OK, but they’re the type of messaging for when you’re ten points ahead. Worse, they feel like boiler-plate campaign commercials that Pete Wilson, Gray Davis or George Pataki could run under slightly different circumstances. There’s nothing in them to suggest that this governor is different than any other or that his cause is any larger.=20

Like I said, it’s all OK. But when you’re down two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter, OK isn’t quite good enough. So hopefully, Team Arnold has got a few scene-changers up their sleeves, something to remake the political conversation as dramatically in their favor as the nurses did to switch it away from them last winter.

In the short run, how about a debate? Schwarzenegger nailed down the recall when he took on Arianna Huffington in their face-to-face exhange two years ago. Maybe Arnold challenges Perata and Nunez to a debate on his four initiatives. Arnold and the ally of his choice (Tom Campbell? Maria?) against the two legislative leaders who are the roadblocks to reform can cut through the noise in a way that six weeks of town halls can’t.

Risky? Sure. But while there’s no need to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone (yet), it’s time to put the ball in the air. That’s how you take back a lead. Otherwise, it’s getting close to time for triage. Passing four initiatives is a lot tougher than focusing on just one or two. But it’s worth trying something big before being forced to cut back.

The governor’s advisors are sick of backseat driving and second-guessing. I don’t blame them. But something big has to happen for them to pull this out.