Schwarzenegger Works on Political Balancing Act

In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger needs Democrats and independents to get re-elected. It's one reason the governor has been moving back toward the political center. But along the way, he's alienated much of his Republican base.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger may be California's top Republican, but many of his fellow party members complain he's been acting like a Democrat. Tonight, they get a crack at him when Schwarzenegger addresses the State Republican Convention in San Jose. He is up for re-election this year, and to win, the governor has to convince Republican conservatives not to desert him, even as he appeals to moderates. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE reporting:

Who but Arnold Schwarzenegger could get an audience to give it up for infrastructure.

(Soundbite of applause)

The governor's been making daily appearances, pumping up his plan to borrow nearly $70 billion to repair the state's roads, levies, prisons and ports. Yesterday, he was at San Diego City College.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (California): There's a great sizzle in our Capitol right now. Everyone in the whole state is talking about infrastructure and the need that we have, so that, to me, is the fantastic part.

JAFFE: Not so fantastic for a lot of Schwarzenegger's fellow Republicans; however, who frown on increasing debt. They're also not too crazy about his proposed budget, 8 percent higher than last year's. His desire to raise the minimum wage is also a non-starter. Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a grass roots organization, says there are just so many things the governor's done lately to make Conservatives unhappy.

Mr. MIKE SPENCE (President, California Republican Assembly): From bonds, the water tax that he's proposed, the appointment of Susan Kennedy, Liberal partisan Democrat, the Chief of Staff, his lack of record when it comes to appointing Republicans, the judges in California here and Los Angeles County, where I live, you're twice as likely to be appointed to the Superior Court if you're a Democrat, and if you're a Republican, it's unheard of; all those kinds of issues.

JAFFE: Spence's organization planned to introduce a measure at the convention this weekend to rescind the party's endorsement through Schwarzenegger's re-election. Party leaders persuaded them to drop that, but they are introducing resolutions to condemn many of the governor's policies. Around the state, Republicans are growing more skeptical of the governor. While he still has strong support from his party, it's down six points in the past month, according to a new poll. Matt David, the Deputy Communications Director for the governor's re-election campaign, says right now, the conflicts to be expected.

Mr. MATT DAVID (Deputy Communications Director for Governor Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign): You know, he welcomes that debate. Obviously, the Republican Party, it's a very big tent--always has been. There's always going to be a debate within the party, and the result is that you come out as a united party in the end, and that's what I think we are going to see in November.

JAFFE: And there's a reason that Republican Conservatives will stick with the governor, like him or not, says political analyst, Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.

Ms. SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE (Political analyst): Because they don't have any real place to go; they can stay home; they can look for a third party alternative, but in doing so, they risk losing the governor's office, and neither of the two major Democratic candidates are going to make them any happier.

JAFFE: But Schwarzenegger needs his party's Conservative base, says Mike Spence, even more than they need him.

Mr. SPENCE: Conservatives are the ones that want precincts. They're the ones that believe in principles. It's not wishy-washy people that get up in the morning and say, I'm going to lock a precinct from my wishy-washy ideas. His people that believe in things, and so if those people aren't out spreading the message of candidates, it hurts them.

JAFFE: So tonight, Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't just have to reassure his fellow Republicans; he has to get them excited enough to work for him.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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