Editorial: Does Angelides have anything better?

When a candidate for governor starts running against the president, and on top of that promises to make major foreign policy decisions from Sacramento, it’s a fair guess he’s run out of ideas. So is Democrat Phil Angelides conceding defeat through desperation?

You do wonder. Polls show Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a double-digit lead over the state treasurer, and Angelides’ internal surveys could show a hardening of that lead. Just a few days, ago Sacramento’s oracular columnist Dan Walters speculated about a landslide for the former movie action hero.

Just a year ago, whoever would win the Democratic nomination for governor, much of the punditocracy believed, would have gales in his sails. The governor’s reformist vessel appeared to be sinking after voters, last November, rammed a gaping hole into its side. Angelides, the party machinery’s favorite over Controller Steve Westly, seemed ready to glide past a stricken governor.

An odd thing happened. The Angelides campaign went lame, the candidate making few memorable policy promises. In mid-August, he unveiled a confusing formula to raise business taxes while cutting liabilities for the middle class. He expected the plan to be dramatic, but jaded voters knew instantly that the patchwork would be forgotten once it landed in the Legislature.

While voters were forgetting the Angelides tax package, the candidate’s pollsters noticed a strong current running through the state. President Bush’s unpopularity was becoming flood-like, a negative public emotion that showed no sign of cresting even if peace in Iraq was (unimaginably) at hand.

So the Angelides camp dug up footage of Gov. Schwarzenegger leading chants at a Bush campaign rally and fashioned it into an anti-Bush, pro-Angelides TV spot. To which a television watcher would respond: “Big whoop. Wouldn’t a Gov. Angelides do that for, say, President Hillary Clinton?” The rational viewerwould continue: “What’s that have to do with governing California?”

Fair questions. But if any close associates put them to the candidate, he wasn’t deterred from his next Big Act. This past weekend, Angelides vowed, if elected, to extract the state’s National Guard from boggy Mesopotamia. Only, as governor, he would have no authority to do so, larger than the threat of a lawsuit.

Now, a gubernatorial candidate has every right to position himself as a moral thinker of global importance. But Californians are more grounded, knowing this kind of empty posturing insults pro- and anti-war voters alike. People want to know how Angelides will apply himself to statewide issues.

Sure, the campaign won’t be decided for another six weeks, and we hear that public service workers plan to go back to their war chest, the same one that damaged Gov. Schwarzenegger last year.

But when a gubernatorial candidate can talk only about world issues, isn’t it fair to say it’s over for him?

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