California: Arnold Comes Back

"I love doing sequels," said a jubilant Arnold Schwarzenegger after his landslide re-election Tuesday night. There have been plenty to choose from. Since he became governor of California in the madcap 2003 recall election, Schwarzenegger has dished up political drama on a schedule that would thrill the most demanding Hollywood producer.

First, there was Arnold the ribald show-biz maverick, who declared his candidacy on "The Tonight Show" and then governed from the center in year one of his reign; followed by Arnold, the hard-edged Republican in 2005, who alienated the state's Democratic majority with an ill-fated special election that blew up in his face. In 2006, there was "postpartisan" Arnold, the environmentally progressive, socially liberal, fiscal conservative who must now qualify as the happiest Republican in America, having demolished his Democratic opponent Phil Angelides in the country's bluest state by nearly 20 points. (Keep in mind that John Kerry beat George Bush here by over a million votes in 2004.)

Wounded Republicans hoping to draw lessons from Schwarzenegger's victory—or for that matter, his wildly incongruous record as governor—are likely to find few pointers. "He's a model for the rest of the country," says campaign manager Steve Schmidt, a former aide to President George W. Bush. It will be interesting to see if Schmidt's former boss takes a page from Schwarzenegger's playbook this week as he begins to grapple with the new Democratic majority in Congress. While there are no other Republican officeholders with Schwarzenegger's pedigree or background (who, aside from Arnold, could boogey onstage with his 85-year-old mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, to a hip-hop version of "Let the Sun Shine" on election night?) being married to a Kennedy does wonders for bipartisan awareness. It's hard to imagine Laura Bush telling her husband he blew it and how to fix it, as Maria Shriver did with her husband last year, after Schwarzenegger lost every one of the government reform initiatives he forced onto the ballot in a special election.

Within days of his drubbing, Schwarzenegger had publicly apologized to Californians for his "mistake," replaced his senior staff with Democratic veterans who had once worked for his predecessor, Gov. Gray Davis, and then sat down with the very lawmakers he had derided as "girlie men" and began hashing out a series of bipartisan compromises on issues ranging from prescription-drug coverage to boosting education funding and raising the state's minimum wage. As a result, Democrats and independents who had been alienated by his harsh partisan rhetoric returned to Schwarzenegger in droves, giving him a margin of victory over the hapless Angelides that Schwarzenegger's team never imagined. And make no mistake: this was an Arnold-only victory. Conservative Republican Tom McClintock, who has clashed with Schwarzenegger on spending policies, lost his race for lieutenant governor by 4 points.

Another ballot measure supported by conservatives, that would have required minors to obtain parental notification before having an abortion, went down by a large margin.

Even though Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign was run by two Bush veterans—Steve Schmidt and Matthew Dowd—the tone was decidedly California. Schwarzenegger pushed his identity as the "people's governor," even telling NEWSWEEK during one interview aboard his campaign bus, "It doesn't say VOTE FOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, REPUBLICAN." Together with Shriver, the consultants positioned Schwarzenegger as a new brand of eco-Republican, even staying away from typical campaign colors in favor of a soft apple green that went on everything from bumper stickers to his campaign bus. In a state where more than 80 percent of voters say a candidate's position on the environment is "important," Schwarzenegger shrewdly out-greened Angelides, who had been damaged during the Democratic primary by charges of polluting during his days as a real-estate developer.

Despite having promoted the Hummer, Schwarzenegger talked nonstop about his dream of a "hydrogen highway" and his solar-roof initiative. In September, Schwarzenegger signed a landmark bill cutting California's greenhouse-gas emissions. Sitting on Treasure Island, against an eye-watering backdrop of San Francisco, Schwarzenegger signed the legislation, flanked by diplomats and the flags of nations that signed the Kyoto Protocol, the 1996 treaty to combat global warming (and one that President Bush refuses to sign.) British Prime Minister Tony Blair was beamed in by videolink to praise Schwarzenegger's environmental leadership. Angelides, meanwhile, held a sparsely attended press conference with leaders of major environmental groups.

While Schwarzenegger was invulnerable on environmental issues, they loomed large on the California ballot. In a major upset, GOP Rep. Richard Pombo, the powerful chairman of the House Resources Committee, lost his seat to Democrat Jerry McNerny, a wind-energy engineer. Pombo, a seven-term incumbent, was targeted by national environmental groups for policies perceived as overly friendly to energy producers. Meanwhile, a ballot measure that would have taxed oil producers to fund alternative energy development, which drew support from Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and a host of lesser celebrities, failed. The measure, Proposition 87, funded by Hollywood producer Steven Bing and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla drew a $100 million countercampaign by the oil industry. Although he opposed the measure because it involved a new tax, Schwarzenegger's aides say he will look for ways in the coming weeks to promote alternative energy research as a way of placating the 48 per cent of California voters who supported the measure.

Also on Schwarzenegger's agenda for his second-term: devising a health-care plan for California, reforming health care, promoting his plan to redraw congressional districts (this time with help from legislators) and a massive, $40 billion infrastructure improvement program. "The people have given us a mandate, not for any particular party," said an uncharacteristically conciliatory Schwarzenegger. "But to build a new future, to work together to get things done." At the dawn of Schwarzenegger's second terms, there are few who would disagree.