Schwarzenegger Trying to Recapture Old Campaign Magic

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, November 7, 2005
There was a time when Governor Schwarzenegger was a big fan of shopping malls. Not for buying, but for selling – himself and his agenda.  Schwarzenegger made appearances at malls all around the state when he was running in the recall election. 
After two years in office, and with a lot on the line in a special election that he called, the governor had pretty much given up the mall scene in favor of “invitation only” events, with crowds hand-picked by the Governor’s staff, often at a place of business. Republican political consultant Kevin Spillane says it’s a typical move for an elected official on the campaign trail/  “It’s normal for campaign staffs to keep a tight wrap on the candidate and so it’s  standard operating procedure to control the message and stay on message as much as possible.”
While it may be typical strategy, the more controlled message emerged earlier this year,just as Schwarzenegger’s public approval ratings took a dive. They haven’t recovered. Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Weintraub says the Governor was wasting time with the controlled town hall meetings.  “The point of those events is not to be speaking to a hand-picked audience, it’s to get coverage in the statewide media. What happened was he wasn’t getting much coverage at all.”
But in these last few weeks of the special election campaign, Political analyst Sherry Bebitch-Jeffe  notes the Governor has resurrected some spontaneity.  “And so what the Schwarzenegger people are trying to re-capture I think is the dynamism and the charisma during the recall-replacement campaign.”
But Schwarzenegger’s campaign adviser Todd Harris says examination of the governor’s different campaign styles is misleading media obsession. “What you’re seeing is a different phase of the campaign, because we’re in the final home stretch right now so now is the time for these kinds of events.”
Schwarzenegger’s more recent strategy has included glad-handingat some restaurants to distribute his voter guide, a bus tour and more town hall meetings. But this time, the audiences haven’t been picked by his campaign team.  That poses a risk. For example, the governor found participants in a recent televised town hall program on the Spanish language Univision network eager to talk—just not about his ballot initiatives. 
Schwarzenegger’s performance at these events has been picked apart by both sides, some say he’s at ease and communicating effectively. Others say he sometimes looked unsure of himself and they decry a lack of real debate on the initiatives. 
Schwarzenegger’s advisers brush off criticisms over their control of the message, saying different phases of campaigns warrant different styles of campaigning. But the governor may want to stick with the more spontaneous style as he heads for yet another campaign in the coming months.  While statistics and history are on his side for re-election, current poll numbers show he has an uphill battle.