This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, July 26, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.
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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Joining us to try to make sense of what's going on in California now that a recall election is set is Daniel Weintraub, political columnist for the Sacramento Bee. He's also the author of a must-read political newsletter called The Insider that you can find on the Bee's Web site, sacbee.com/insider.
Daniel, as I understand it, the, the polls out there show that the recall effort is ahead among likely voters something like 51 to 43. Now, what does the situation have to look like before Dianne Feinstein (search) jumps into the race and makes Davis toast for sure?
DANIEL WEINTRAUB, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THE SACRAMENTO BEE: I think it would have to widen a little bit beyond that, because the Democrats are looking at this and saying, Hey, only 51, maybe 53 percent of the voters are supporting this thing now.
Historically in California, with ballot measures, and people aren't quite sure whether this is a ballot measure or an election, but with ballot measures, anything that starts at 51 percent is usually defeated, because the opposition just raises questions, confuses voters, puts doubts in people's minds. And that 51 starts sliding down into the 40s fairly quickly.
I think the Democratic strategy at this point is to treat this like a ballot measure and start hacking away at that.
FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Yes, but aren't the voters who are for the recall, the ones who signed all these petitions, more likely to vote? They have the intensity rather than Democratic voters, you know, getting out of bed and going down to vote to save Gray Davis (search).
WEINTRAUB: Absolutely. The motive…all the motivation here at this point is on the support of the recall. Gray Davis has never been somebody who had any kind of loyal following. He's just worked his way up the political food chain. He's a centrist. He doesn't, you know, really stand for anything, he hasn't scoped out a vision that people subscribe to.
So I have hard time seeing people really, you know, getting themselves down to the polls to save his behind. The Democrats, of course, are going to wage a campaign to try to get their voters aware of what's at stake, in their view.
KONDRACKE: So what, what is the pro-Davis strategy?…besides saying that this is a, an attempted conservative coup, what else do they do, and how do they do it?
WEINTRAUB: That is the number one strategy at this point, and I think they're going to keep pounding on it, because this remains a Democratic- leaning state. Their other angle at the moment, which I don't think is going to work, is they're just fixated on the cost of the election. It's a special election. The counties have to gear up, hire people. It's going to cost something like $30 million.
Their polling has been showing that that's effective, but I think that there's a problem there. It was effective before the recall was certified. And people said, oh, if it's going to cost that much, maybe we shouldn't do it. But the problem is, the election's here now. So whether you go and vote or not, it's going to cost $30 million.
Voters tend to like choices. I don't see people going down to the polls, and I'm going to vote no on this recall, because I'm mad because it's going to cost us money. That just doesn't seem to cut it.
BARNES: Yes, Daniel, though, there might be a Republican (search) takeover of the governor's office as a result of this. Isn't there a lot more to this recall movement than just that? I mean, isn't there a populist aspect to it?
WEINTRAUB: Absolutely. This thing actually has the leadership of both parties in California in a panic. It's not just the Democrats, who have obvious reasons to worry, but the top Republican leadership in California was not behind this thing. The leader in the state senate, who's very close to President Bush, did not want this to happen. The leader in the state assembly was lukewarm to it. Even some of the top state party officials didn't want it.
They don't like it because it's out of their control. It's really kind of this ragtag group of gadflies hooking up with Congressman Issa (search) from San Diego County, his money created this, you know, monster, in some people's view, that can't be controlled.
And the establishment doesn't like it no matter what their political persuasion.
KONDRACKE: So everybody is waiting for, for Arnold…the Terminator. Is Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) going to get into this race, or isn't he?
WEINTRAUB: Well, it seems pretty clear that over the last couple of days, after lots and lots of indications that he was running, something is holding him back. I think that something is named Maria, and they're having some family conversations over whether they want all his dirty laundry spread across the world, especially, you know, they've got young children who, you know, have to go to through this, if that's what it comes to.
But we're seeing signs that former L.A. mayor Dick Riordan, who had an agreement with Arnold that one or the other would run but not both, Riordan in the last couple days has started to make noises about exploring his own campaign...
KONDRACKE: Well, what's, what's Arnold...
WEINTRAUB: ... which people are taking as a signal...
KONDRACKE: What's Arnold's dirty laundry?
WEINTRAUB: Oh, just Hollywood (search) stuff, stuff you've read in the tabloids over the years. Two years ago, when he hinted about running, one of Gray Davis's campaign people faxed out a magazine story that talked about him groping women on the set, and whatnot. You know, we all know he smoked pot in the, in the film Pumping Iron 30 years ago.
I don't happen to believe this stuff sticks to him in a political campaign, but there still might be some things there that he'd rather his children not see on the evening news every night for a couple months.
BARNES: So does he have a chance of being the next governor of California or not?
WEINTRAUB: I think if Schwarzenegger runs, he wins. I think the political class in California are terribly underestimating his potential as a candidate, and overestimating their ability to take him down. Right now, he's in the 20 to 25 percent range, purely on celebrity power alone.
What most voters probably don't know, and I think certainly don't know yet, is that this guy actually has a track record of public service. I mean, he's dedicated the last 10 or 15 years of his life to a couple of charities, including the Special Olympics and these after-school programs, millions of dollars he's raised, and contributed from his own bank account to this stuff.
I think when people start to hear that, and start to hear some of his views on the economy and fiscal issues, which are free market-oriented, they'll think this is a guy who's actually a serious public figure and not just a movie star. At that point, I think his stock starts to rise.
BARNES: It's just amazing to think of it, Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California by the end of the year.
Anyway, Daniel, thanks very much.
WEINTRAUB: Thank you.
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