Why wait until the last minute? It’s time to start the post-election spin….
I don’t pretend to know who’s poll numbers are right. The Public Policy Institute and the Schwarzenegger team seem to be polling on different planets, or at least using vastly different samples and techniques. If I had to guess, though, Proposition 76, the governor’s budget reform initiative, is pretty much dead. Propositions 74 and 75, the measures on teacher tenure and paycheck protection, could go either way. And Prop 77, the redistricting initiative, looks like a long shot but is still pretty much of a wild card, given the cross-partisan nature of its support.
Mike Murphy, the governor’s lead consultant, has been quoted saying that passing just one of the four of the initiatives would be a victory for Schwarzenegger. That doesn’t sound like a campaign that’s confident of winning three or four of them. But for the most part, Murphy’s probably right.
Passing teacher tenure reform but losing the other three would be a very thin reed on which Arnold could claim success: it wouldn’t be a believable claim and the news media wouldn’t buy it. But passing either paycheck protection or redistricting reform would allow Schwarzenegger to credibly declare victory. He would be able to make the case that while he did not achieve everything he sought, the passage of either of those two initiatives can serve as the first step toward the broader reforms that California needs, etc, etc.
If passing either Prop 75 or 77 would allow Schwarzenegger to claim a win, passing both would almost certainly be enough for the news media to declare him victorious as well. Assume that type of turnout would also bring 74 across the finish line, so the argument that passing three out of four initiatives does not constitute a success is a difficult one to sustain. The unions would still contend that they defeated the governor, but most credible observers would give Schwarzenegger the win under those circumstances.
Under the worst possible scenario, if all four of Schwarzenegger’s initiatives are unsuccessful, then it would obviously be impossible for his team to spin any type of positive result. Voters would probably see a very contrite governor, who would admit to over-reaching in an effort to do the right thing for California and its people. Ironically, though, while that sort of defeat would harm Arnold’s ability to govern in 2006, it probably wouldn’t have much of a long-term impact on his political fortunes. Even if Schwarzenegger goes zero for four next week, he’d still be the odds-on favorite for re-election. But more on that some other time….