State Sen. Tom McClintock ended his long-shot campaign for governor the way he began it two months ago, reaching out in radio and television interviews to ask supporters to “vote your conscience” and hand him “the greatest upset in state history.”
Outspent and overshadowed by front-running Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, an upbeat McClintock struck out on his “victory tour” Monday morning, driving a state-issue silver Dodge sedan to Sacramento television studios, accompanied by a lone newspaper reporter.
By nightfall he had attended no rallies, hugged no children and waved to no crowds. But he had given at least 17 electronic interviews -- most on national television -- before flying to his Ventura County Senate district to vote this morning.
Sans balloons and campaign signs, the conservative Republican -- an articulate policy expert whose anti-tax campaign apparently struck a chord with many voters sick of the state’s fiscal mess -- was essentially a one-man campaign Monday.
“I think I can reach as many people this way,” he said. “And it costs a lot less money.”
Yet for most of the day, McClintock was asked about Schwarzenegger: Should the actor quit the race because of sexual harassment claims? Should McClintock quit the race because he has no chance to win and will split the Republican vote, handing the election to Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante if the recall passes?
McClintock acknowledged the problem. On Friday, his own opinion poll showed him trailing Schwarzenegger 36% to 18%, with Bustamante at 23%.
But McClintock argued that if all the voters who have declared in recent polls that he is the best-qualified candidate will just vote for him, he’ll win on election day.
If the recall campaign has been dominated by Schwarzenegger’s presence, McClintock told The Times that election results may be influenced by the harassment allegations. The backlash, McClintock said, could push some pragmatic conservative voters who had moved to Schwarzenegger back into his camp.
“We’ve had a flood of e-mails from people essentially saying, thank God you stuck it out. Thank God we have another [Republican] choice,” McClintock said in a statement repeated all day to interviewers.
At one point Monday afternoon, he gave five interviews in 30 minutes at a studio linked by satellite with reporters across the country. Interviews with Lester Holt of MSNBC and Judy Woodruff at CNN were separated by just 60 seconds.
Before and after, he talked with three reporters from Los Angeles and Sacramento stations -- no preparation necessary. “I’ve had 20 years of preparation,” he quipped.
“I never consider this pressure,” McClintock said. “I look at these interviews as an opportunity to offer alternatives for California’s future.”
Before one radio interview from his Capitol desk -- bracketed on three sides by a bust of Thomas Jefferson, a picture of the Statue of Liberty and a photo of a huge rogue elephant -- McClintock methodically checked the morning’s headlines on an Internet site. The story he called up first was the latest news about the Schwarzenegger scandal.
But he was careful Monday not to condemn the actor prematurely, urging caution and skepticism about any story that appears in the final days of a political race.
He added, however, in comments to Woodruff, “I do think there is a lot Arnold Schwarzenegger could do simply by stepping forward and explaining his conduct. [He] could help by telling us what is fact and what is not.”