JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
Last year it looked like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's political career might be a brief one. Voters emphatically rejected everything he put on the ballot in the November special election. His approval rating was abysmal. But he has made big changes, and now, polls show he has got a decent chance at reelection this fall.
NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.
INA JAFFE reporting:
Maybe love means never having to say you're sorry, but in politics it seems to work. At least it has for Arnold Schwarzenegger says Barbara O'Connor, Professor of Political Communications at Cal State Sacramento.
Ms. BARBARA O'CONNOR (Professor of Political Communication, Cal State Sacramento): He said, I made a mistake, and he did a public mea culpa to the people of California and set about a different course. So his numbers have gone up.
JAFFE: Part of that different course is a renewed effort to make amends with the people he went to war with last year. In particular, the Democrats who control the legislature, the ones he once called, girly men. Their cooperation this year, has allowed the Republican Governor to claim some solid achievements. For example, later today, Schwarzenegger is signing the first on-time state budget in six years.
In fact, he is getting along with Democrats so well, that this is how his one time nemesis, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, introduced him at a recent Sacramento event.
Mr. FABIAN NUNEZ (Assembly Speaker): California is once again, my friends, on the move, thanks largely to this next man, the governor of our great state and a good friend of mine, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
JAFFE: No one was more flabbergasted than the governor himself.
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (California): Well, thank you very much, Fabian, for the wonderful things you said. As a matter of fact, can I use a lot those lines in my campaign.
JAFFE: Schwarzenegger was probably so amused because Fabian Nunez is the campaign co-chair of his opponent, Democratic State Treasurer, Phil Angelides. The latest polls show the two in a virtual dead heat. Schwarzenegger needs to appeal to Democrats. They outnumber Republicans here. And lately Schwarzenegger has been planting his flag on what's usually Democratic turf, with proposals for education, the environment, and healthcare for poor children.
He has also very publicly opposed some policies of President Bush, who is exceptionally unpopular in this state. But Phil Angelides' campaign manager, Cathy Calfo, says that Schwarzenegger is trying to have it both ways. After supporting the president's reelection and campaigning for him in the crucial state of Ohio.
Ms. CATHY CALFO (Campaign Manager for Phil Angelides): To the extent that he distances himself from the president and the president's policies, will remind voters that George Bush may well not be there if it weren't for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
JAFFE: While Schwarzenegger is trying to reassure voters he is not the right winger he appeared to be last year, the teachers, firefighters and cops who took him on in the special election aren't yet convinced, says Ray McNally, one of the political consultants who engineered Schwarzenegger's defeat last November.
Mr. RAY MCNALLY (Political Consultant): He is reaching out. He is talking to these people, but it will be likely a long while before people really start trusting him again.
JAFFE: But Steve Schmidt, the governor's campaign manager, says that Schwarzenegger isn't so different than he was last year or the year before. He just can't be pigeonholed like other politicians and voters like that.
Mr. STEVE SCHMIDT (Campaign Manger for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger): He puts partisanship aside. He puts California first. And as a result of that, the governor's polls numbers have been climbing.
JAFFE: Like the indestructible terminator that Schwarzenegger played in the movies, he is back. But he still has to convince the voters to let him stick around for a few more years.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Sacramento.
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