Angelides Banking on Working People to Come to Rescue

Treasurer Phil Angelides is sitting on the front edge of a chair, hand gestures flying, trying to convince me he still has a crack at being elected governor.

“The fact is that after a barrage of $40 million in negative ads against me -- add up what was spent in the primary and what’s been spent by the Republican attack machine -- after all that, I’m still hanging around,” says the underdog Democrat, who’s trailing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the polls and in fundraising.

“The miracle is he hasn’t put me away. He’s got to be shaking now. Trust me, they’re nervous.”

Schwarzenegger is a sitting governor whose voter support, based on polls, is only in the mid-40s, Angelides continues. “It’s likely to be a big Democratic year. He’s facing a guy a third of the voters don’t really know yet and won’t tune in to find out about until after Labor Day.”


Actually, it’s only a fifth of likely voters who have no opinion of Angelides, according to the latest nonpartisan Field Poll. Among those who do have an opinion, it’s a close call: 41% favorable, 38% unfavorable. Schwarzenegger fares a bit better: 51% favorable, 44% unfavorable.

And who would they vote for? Schwarzenegger 45%, Angelides 37%.

“What is most remarkable,” Angelides says, “is that even though the world knows him, more than half the voters aren’t prepared to vote for him.

“They want to know who the other guy is. And I’m the other guy. They want to know who I am, what I stand for, where I’m going to take the state.”


Precisely, and what has taken him so long? That’s a question many political pros have been asking. Angelides has allowed himself to be defined by Schwarzenegger as a tax-and-spender, with an emphasis on tax.

Why hasn’t Angelides been emphasizing all his intended noble uses for the higher taxes -- which, despite the Schwarzenegger demagoguery, would be levied only on the richest 1% of income taxpayers and the big corporations? Actually, Angelides has tried, but taxes are such a red flag that his proposed spending on education and healthcare has gone largely overlooked.

Moreover, a bigger-than-life star like Schwarzenegger -- not to mention an incumbent governor -- sucks up much of the media coverage and public attention, especially when his challenger isn’t all that telegenic.

But most of the blame still lies with Angelides. The candidate controls his own TV advertising and oratory. Why hasn’t he defined himself better?


“The fact is,” Angelides replies, without really answering, “this is the hand I was dealt: a tough primary. A governor whose campaign is all about destroying me.... one with tens of millions of dollars in special interest money.... using all those millions from his big corporate buddies to hide the fact that he’s shilling for them and lining their pockets.”

He adds: “Today was the seminal day in this campaign. Today was the beginning for us. This is when I said who I am, who I want to fight for.”

Angelides has spent this day in Hollywood and San Francisco, unveiling a package of middle-income and small business tax cuts totaling $1.4 billion. He also promises to roll back college tuition, pump more money into schools and provide affordable health insurance for all kids.

He’d still raise income taxes on individuals earning more than $250,000 -- couples more than $500,000. That would generate $3.1 billion. And he’d appoint a commission to recommend $2 billion worth of corporate loophole-closings.


That totals $5.1 billion in higher taxes -- nowhere near the $18 billion the Schwarzenegger camp keeps tagging him with, dredging up every tax-and-spending proposal Angelides ever has mentioned favorably over the years.

“That’s what the Republican attack machine always does,” the Democrat says. “They lie. They distort the truth. Because, God knows, Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t have a record to run on and he has no plans for the future.”

It’s night. Angelides is in his busy campaign headquarters, his tie removed, his white shirt rumpled.

He must be saying the words “middle class and hardworking families” 100 times. He needs to win them over to get elected -- and also must energize the Democratic voters who detest President Bush.


Problem is, polls show that Democrats aren’t exactly flocking to Angelides. Only 54% supported him in a July poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, while 79% of Republicans stood with Schwarzenegger.

“I have every faith and confidence that Democrats are going to come back,” Angelides says. “This is going to be one of the strongest Democratic years in history. I believe people are ready nationally for a change.”

And how does that help him running for governor?

“Because in the end, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s policies are not fundamentally different than George Bush’s. Both of these guys, at each and every turn, stick it to the middle class and the hardworking people [and] side with the big interests.”


Angelides, 53, is no political neophyte. The former housing developer has won and lost races all his adult life, starting with a beating for Sacramento City Council at age 20. So he’s realistic. “It’s a tough climb,” he concedes.

“But the last thing I want to say on this is a quote from Harry Truman,” he continues. “When Truman accepted the nomination of his party in 1948 -- when everyone had counted him out, dead, left by the side of the road -- what he said was, ‘I will win this election and I will make the Republicans like it.’

“I will win this election and I will make Arnold Schwarzenegger like it.”

When candidates start quoting Harry Truman, I told him, you know they’ve lost.


“No,” Angelides shot back, laughing. “It’s when they start saying, ‘The only poll that counts is the one on election day.’ The minute you hear me say that.... “

Fortunately for Angelides, he still has a sense of humor. He’s going to need it.

George Skelton writes Monday and Thursday. Reach him at