Gubernatorial candidates equally unpopular, says pollster Field
But statewide experience will help Davis win, says poli-sci prof and co-panelist Cain

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

30 October 2002 | If Bill Simon loses to Gray Davis on Nov. 5, it would mean much more than just one man’s failure to occupy the governor’s office. It also would greatly diminish the chance of a Republican being elected in 2006, said Bruce Cain, a Berkeley political science professor and director of the Institute of Governmental Studies.

Cain and three other political experts shared their views about next week’s state and national elections with Berkeley emeriti and retirees in Boalt Hall’s Booth Auditorium last Tuesday. The panel discussion was sponsored by the Berkeley Retirement Center as part of its “Learning in Retirement” lecture series.

“It puts the Republican Party in a deep hole if they lose the governor’s race, which can affect how well they do in other key races, such as lieutenant governor,” said Cain. “To be successful in the 2006 election, they need people with experience holding statewide office. Already, their bench is looking pretty thin.” Without a strong, politically experienced candidate, Cain continued, the Republicans will be forced to look elsewhere, such as at self-made millionaires, celebrities (actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is already testing the waters), or local politicians with little name recognition outside their own regions.

Holding a statewide office seems to be key to becoming governor, Cain reiterated. “Look at Gray Davis, who came out of the lieutenant governor’s office. George Deukmejian was attorney general, and Jerry Brown was secretary of state. They had visibility and name recognition, which enabled them to raise the kind of money needed to win election.”

‘Everything going’ for GOP
Though the Republicans had a golden opportunity to reclaim the governor’s seat this year, said Cain, the inexperienced Simon has been unable to take advantage of it. “They had everything going for them. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with Gray Davis’s perceived mishandling of the energy crisis and the budget, and a general sense that he was moving the state in the wrong direction. These were all good indicators for the Republicans, and it would have been a good year for them to get back in power.”

The distaste for both candidates is marked and unprecedented, said fellow panelist Mervyn Field, founder of the Field Poll, the state’s leading political-polling firm. “We’ve been polling since World War II, and I can’t recall a situation where the candidates from both major parties received unfavorable ratings above 50 percent,” he said. “For the two candidates to be so disliked by the electorate is very unusual.”

Panel moderator Eugene Lee, professor emeritus of political science, asked why Republicans — who traditionally have done very well in California gubernatorial campaigns — have fared so poorly in the last two elections.

“The problems began around 1994,” replied Cain, “when there was a bump in the Latino vote, as these traditionally Democratic voters moblized around several initiatives they perceived to be discriminatory, such as Propositions 209, 227, and 187. This, combined with a strong gender gap, caused some real structural problems for the Republicans in California. Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s they could run a normal campaign and win, now they have to run a very good campaign to do well.”

In an attempt to prevent the potential alienation of the Latino vote this year, Cain said Republicans successfully pressured Ward Connerly, chair of the American Civil Rights Coalition, to slow efforts to get his Racial Privacy Initiative on the ballot. The proposition would have barred public agencies from collecting individual racial and ethnic information — which, critics claim, would make it impossible to evaluate policies intended to eliminate discrimination.

When asked if the growing Latino population in the state will affect the outcome of the election, Field said that, despite their increasing numbers, the impact would be minimal.

“They are the single-largest group in the state, with citizens and undocumented aliens accounting for about 30 percent of the population,” said Field. “But of this total population, 20 to 21 percent are eligible to vote, 15 percent are actually registered, and only 12 percent actually turn out on election day.”

Bush a uniter or divider?
On the national scene, there are a handful of key races that can shift the slim, one-seat majority Democrats hold in the Senate, said political science professor Nelson Polsby. The outcome could greatly alter the country’s judicial profile, with more conservative judgments being passed in the coming years.

“There are six or seven seats up for election now that could go either way,” said Polsby. “If the Republicans end up controlling the Senate by even one vote, it would break the current logjam of judicial nominees.” Democrats have been stalling the nomination process, Polsby said, because they feel Bush’s appointees aren’t moderate enough.

“This president is remarkable, in my view, in that he campaigned as ‘a uniter, not a divider‚’ yet he has ignored the fact that this country is basically split down the middle politically,” he said, commenting on the rightward-leaning judicial nominations Bush has forwarded so far. If Republicans gain a majority in the Senate after this election, he continued, “you can expect a whole flood of nominations to go through, which will affect court opinions in our country for a long, long time.”


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