Gov. Aims to Get Out Vote Selectively
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered next week’s special election to take his agenda to “the people,” but his campaign strategy relies on relatively few people showing up next Tuesday and large segments of voters staying home.
The governor’s plan -- “micro-targeting” voters, advertising in selected markets to reach them and conducting daily polls to augur the political mood -- is guided by a single premise: If every Democrat and every Republican in California votes next week, Schwarzenegger’s measures are likely to lose.
The Republican governor entered the final week of the special election campaign invoking the bipartisan “people’s revolt” that swept him to power in the recall campaign two years ago. But his strategy for getting voters to the polls focuses on a small group of loyal Republicans to support the initiatives he has endorsed on the ballot.
There are about 1.2 million more Democrats than Republicans in California, and major public opinion surveys have shown that none of the governor’s measures is winning. With those statistics in mind, Schwarzenegger’s campaign has put many of its resources into just motivating loyal Republicans.
“The world is run by those who show up,” said Ron Nehring, vice chairman of the California Republican Party, who is helping Schwarzenegger get GOP supporters to the polls.
Off-year elections tend to elicit a low turnout. And the special election is about ideas rather than candidates, with a ballot containing eight statewide initiatives -- four embraced by Schwarzenegger. Voters tend to engage less in a debate over initiatives than in deciding who will represent them, election experts say.
In addition, television ads by the governor’s opponents encouraging a “no” vote on his measures have blanketed the airwaves -- something experts said also could discourage people from showing up.
A week from today, the governor wants voters to approve Proposition 74, which would make it more difficult for teachers to earn tenure; Proposition 75, which would restrict public employee unions’ collection of dues for politics; Proposition 76, which would cap state spending and give governors more control over the budget; and Proposition 77, which would strip legislators of the authority to draw their own districts.
As the campaign enters its final days, the governor has attempted to broaden his message. He has launched a new statewide television ad in which he asks Californians to “give me the tools to do the job you elected me to do.” And he has scheduled several TV appearances in markets that allow him to reach a large segment of voters.
Despite polls showing that Schwarzenegger’s popularity is low, his campaign says people might come out and vote for his measures simply to give him another chance.
“The public has a very complex relationship with this governor,” spokesman Todd Harris said.
But most of his campaigning has been highly partisan, aimed at the core of the Republican Party. Recent public opinion surveys have shown that Schwarzenegger is having trouble persuading a sizable segment of Republicans to stand by him.
A Public Policy Institute of California survey showed last week that 34% of Republicans either disapproved or were indifferent to how the governor “is handling the issue of reforming California government,” compared with 66% of GOP members who approved.
“We have to start with our members,” said Nehring, the state GOP’s expert on voter turnout.
In recent weeks, Schwarzenegger has campaigned heavily in conservative areas such as Fresno, San Diego, Redding, Orange County and Sacramento. Today he is scheduled to participate in conservative talk radio programs and campaign in Republican-dominated areas -- San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield and Palm Springs.
His TV advertising also has been sectarian: Except on some cable stations, he has declined to run ads in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is heavily Democratic.
The governor has collected more than $40 million for his campaign but is spending most of it on ads and does not have his own get-out-the-vote operation. The state Republican Party is handling that for him, which is unusual in initiative fights.
Nehring said the most effective method of drawing voters to the polls is face-to-face contact, which the party is attempting with a field operation that consists of “Republican volunteers standing on the doorstep of Republican voters.”
Schwarzenegger also is expected to make “robo-calls,” recorded telephone messages that are auto-dialed to supporters, which the campaign believes are effective at getting Republicans to vote.
The party has hired a firm called TargetPoint Consulting in Alexandria, Va., which specializes in “micro-targeting” -- identifying voters down to such details as their magazine subscriptions, buying habits and TV viewing preferences.
TargetPoint research directed the Schwarzenegger campaign on where to send campaign mailings, which went to 5 million voters considered most likely to support his positions. The party also helped coordinate campaign material for 50,000 overseas voters, including the military, hoping that will help the governor.
Schwarzenegger is not the only one worried about who will turn out next Tuesday. The “no” message from Schwarzenegger’s opponents in unions and the Democratic Party could boomerang on them when they need as many of their constituents as possible to show up.
Unions are most concerned about Proposition 75, which applies to government employee unions. There is a worry that members of non-public unions will stay home, along with Democrats, believing that their interests are not at stake.
“Just saying ‘no’ means you have to go and actually vote ‘no,’ ” said Rick Jacobs, former California campaign chairman for presidential candidate Howard Dean and head of a liberal group called the Courage Campaign.
Phil Giarrizzo, a top-level consultant for unions and Democrats, concurred: “Inaction in this case means [Schwarzenegger] wins.”
Giarrizzo says that the main anti-Schwarzenegger group, a labor coalition called Alliance for a Better California, has reached 1 million households with its message to encourage voters. He said the group has 35 field operations to get voters to the polls -- about what is needed in a statewide campaign.
He said he sees evidence that the special election could motivate the same number of voters as any other low-turnout election -- 40% to 45% of the electorate.
Elaine Ginnold, acting registrar in Alameda County, a heavily Democratic area, said she expected turnout to be quite low. Mikel D. Haas, the registrar in San Diego County, predicted turnout for this election will be nothing compared with last year’s presidential election, in which 76% of registered California voters participated.
The Public Policy Institute of California and the governor’s own pollster, John McLaughlin, both estimated that last-minute momentum could turn out roughly 50% of voters, about the same as for the 2002 gubernatorial race.
“If there is a lot of media interest in the race that says, ‘This is close; we don’t know what is going to happen,’ ” McLaughlin said, “you are going to see a greater turnout.”
Gale Kaufman, chief consultant for Democrats and unions, said that the surging interest identified in the institute’s latest poll, coupled with lax support for most of the governor’s initiatives, shows that people are “going to come out and vote no.”
Last week, Schwarzenegger visited a sports bar in Fresno, an appearance billed by his campaign as the kind of populist “drop-by” the governor reveled in last year and during the recall. But the Fresno crowd was handpicked, as it has been for most of his campaign events.
In a county that is about 40% Democratic, the Fresno bar looked like a Republican Central Committee meeting with big-screen TVs and blue blazers. Young men with T-shirts that read “College Republican” circulated in the crowd.
“It’s an all-out battle now,” Schwarzenegger told them. “We have to be in the trenches.”