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California Focus: GOP Confab Could Be Key To Arnold’s Reelection:

For the reelection campaign of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state Republican Party convention scheduled this Friday and Saturday in San Jose could be a defining moment.Rare as it is for a sitting governor to face any potential loss of support of his own party, that’s exactly the scenario Schwarzenegger could confront at this convention.Conservative Republicans are furious over several actions the governor has taken in his effort to become a “moderate” after voters thoroughly thumped his four so-called “reform” initiatives last November.All four of those propositions, from one aiming to make it tougher for labor unions to raise political money and another taking redistricting out of the Legislature to a measure clamping down on budget increases and one seeking to tighten up teacher tenure, lost by more than any poll predicted.But Schwarzenegger won firm support from registered Republican voters for all of them. In fact, surveys showed that by year’s end, GOP partisans were about his only backers.Realizing he can’t be reelected solely with that support, Schwarzenegger quickly sought to recast himself. He hired longtime Democrat Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff, swore to Republicans she would take no part in his campaigns – and then began paying her from campaign funds to meet with and stroke his biggest political donors.Then he proposed a $1 per hour increase in the state’s minimum wage over two years. And he began promoting a 20-year state construction and rebuilding program to be financed in large part with borrowed money.Each move raised Republican hackles. So riled up was the party’s former state chairman, Michael Schroeder of Orange County, that he wrote in January that Schwarzenegger is “erratic,” “has not demonstrated he can govern” and that he should not run for reelection.Schroeder and two other past party chairmen are among those behind five resolutions tentatively set for votes at the party convention, all disapproving of Schwarzenegger’s actions. One resolution demands he get rid of Kennedy, another would have the party rescind the endorsement it routinely voted him last fall.As always, Schwarzenegger and his staff tried to put a happy face on it all. “The governor has always said that a healthy debate is a good thing for our party,” said his brand-new communications director, Adam Menselsohn. “He looks forward to going to the convention, speaking at the convention and meeting with all the grass-roots Republicans who have helped him since the recall.”That remark was reminiscent of the “fantastic” tag Schwarzenegger applied to a 2003 court decision saying he could not take $4 million from his campaign funds to repay a “loan” he’d made to himself.The simple fact is that because of his attacks on labor unions and teacher tenure, plus his attempts both to lower nurse-to-patient staffing ratios and cut out a state requirement that employers provide lunch breaks for workers, Schwarzenegger can’t win over large numbers of Democrats next fall. That’s true no matter what he does this year. Voters who felt threatened by Schwarzenegger last year will surely have their memories jogged by Democratic campaign advertising in October and November.So Schwarzenegger will have to court independents and must have a very large Republican turnout to have any chance of winning.But he’s in trouble with his party’s rank-and-file, especially the grass-roots activists he wants to glad-hand in San Jose. By now, the novelty of mingling with a mega-celebrity has worn off a bit for them.Wrote one activist on a weblog, “Arnold’s compass is scrambled. Is someone holding a magnet next to his head?”Said another, “He acts like he has been a politician all his life.”Contended Garry South, once the chief adviser to ex-Gov. Gray Davis and now playing the same role for state Controller Steve Westly, who wants the Democratic nomination to oppose Schwarzenegger, “Voters are very disillusioned with the man himself and what they view as his blatant hypocrisy, double-talk and inconsistencies. He can’t fix it with just an infrastructure program and a budget that looks like a Democrat’s. I doubt he can fix it at all.”Mendelsohn responds by asserting that “the governor has a record that will resonate with grass-roots Republicans, including eliminating the vehicle license tax, reforming workers’ compensation and paying down the state’s structural budget deficit.”But if, as it now appears, the most devout Republicans are also the most disillusioned former Schwarzenegger fans, he will be in big trouble. The party convention and its votes on the five anti-Arnold resolutions may provide a measure of how deep that trouble goes.

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