This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, September 27, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Joining us to give us the inside scoop on the California recall is syndicated columnist Jill Stewart. Her column, Capital Punishment, can be found at www.jillstewart.net.

Thanks for joining us again, Jill.

JILL STEWART, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Thank you.

KONDRACKE: Well, the conventional wisdom, at least out here among people who watched the debate and look at, look at California, is that the five candidates in their debate last week squabbled so much that the net beneficiary is Gray Davis (search). Is that right or wrong?

STEWART: I think it's totally wrong, totally bogus. I'm not hearing real people say that. That's the waggers and talkers. But real people are all talking about Arnold. The big question was, could he hold his own? Does he really know about policy, and has he really been reading those position papers?

And the answer was yes. And I…everybody I'm hearing is saying, Thank God, you know, thank God he did it, because now we have an actual, an actual person in the race besides the Democrats. And everybody wanted to see a real race, not just the Democrats.

KONDRACKE: OK, so...

STEWART: So now we have a real race.

KONDRACKE: ... so, so, so you say recall is going to pass.

STEWART: I don't know if it's going to pass, but the last polls showed it 11 points ahead, so I'd say it looks very good right now, and helped along a lot, I think, by Schwarzenegger's performance, and all the endorsements he's had since then.

KONDRACKE: Well, what about, what, I mean, Davis is going around, he's got a lot of money, he's going to put on ads, he's going very…sometimes negative, sometimes, you know, positive. Is he get, is he gaining any traction?

STEWART: Nobody knows. He hasn't, you know, his negatives are so high, they're still at Nixon levels, extremely high. He's extremely unpopular. And 76 percent of Californians say the state's going in the wrong direction. That's extremely difficult to overcome.

The only way he can do it is really, really negative ads on Schwarzenegger, I think, and we don't know what he's coming up with. I've heard rumors something really awful, something really negative is going to come down the pike, but we just don't know.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: I've got a couple of Arnold questions, Jill. Number one, I thought Arnold made a mistake in engaging with Arianna Huffington (search) in that debate. I mean, no good can come of that. She's a silly person. And, and I thought it didn't help him. What do you think?

STEWART: Well, I thought, I thought at first, and then I did, you know, the man-on-the-street interviews and woman-on-the-street interviews, and I found that most people had a lot of fun with it. They were happy to see somebody acting like a normal person in a debate instead of a stuffy politician. It's the sort of thing they would have said back to somebody who was snapping at them and attacking them.

And they very much enjoyed it. And it was sort of the talk of every bar and every cafe and every grocery store line I've been in.

BARNES: And the talk was favorable.

STEWART: Yes, I, a lot of favorable. But in fact, the only people I heard that were really angry were feminists and very young women.

BARNES: Well, were they mad about that line where he said he had a role for Arianna Huffington in Terminator 4? I know the…people, Chris Lehane (search), were flogging that story.

STEWART: Yes, I think they were mad about, no sense of humor there. And of course Chris Lehane tried to promote that, and he did manage to get that idea into a couple of papers who did not identify who Chris Lehane was. They…he sucked people in to spinning that, and they didn't…Reuters and The L.A. Times did not identify who he was.

BARNES: Well, explain who he really is, Chris Lehane.

STEWART: Well, he's, he's, you know, first of all, he's the one who came up with a lot of the sneaky tricks to turn Gore into a victim in Florida. That was a lot of his doing. And now he's an adviser to the AFL- CIO (search) and the no on recall here for Davis in California.

KONDRACKE: Well…now, look, the, the, the big problem for Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) is McClintock, and he's not getting out of the race, is he?

STEWART: I sort of doubt it at this point. But McClintock is doing something very interesting. He's not assaulting Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's not doing anything mean to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And he's telling people, My voters will know what to do when the time comes. And everybody's viewing this as a coded message for, If it looks like Arnold is going to win, when you go into that ballot box, vote for him. That's, that's what's been the discussion going on right now.

So he might not hurt Schwarzenegger in the end. It's so up in the air, nobody really knows. But some people are saying, and it might be true, that he will bring the conservatives out to vote at the polls, and then the conservatives, in the privacy of their polling booth, will go for Schwarzenegger, as a lot of them have endorsed him this week and last week.

KONDRACKE: Are conservative voters in California capable of voting strategically?

STEWART: Well, they haven't been for 10 years, and it's killed the Republican Party. But I have been listening to talk shows all week. I've been trying to get a…the pulse of the conservative mind, Christian stations and so on.

And an amazing number of people are saying, I've grown up, I'm now going to vote for the guy who can win, because he's a fiscal conservative. I don't care how he lived his life. I like him now.

So we'll see if they really mean that.

BARNES: OK. I think we have time for one more question, and that's about Cruz Bustamante. He seemed to have a strange relationship with Arianna Huffington, for one, and he seemed like he was passive, almost asleep in that debate. Is he dead?

STEWART: Yes, he's…I think he's very afraid of the Arianna. He refused to sit by her at the debate the week before this last one. And then he got stuck next to her at this final debate. And, and he was, I think he was scared to death. He barely opened his mouth. I think he didn't want to rile her up.

He kind of mumbled. He said a few things here and there. It was a very passive performance. He looked like he had the flu. I think he was hurt the most by this by far, not, not Gray Davis.

BARNES: So is he finished, Bustamante?

STEWART: He's not finished. He will get a lot of the Democratic vote. He will get a lot of the...

BARNES: OK.

STEWART: ... Latino vote. He's going hard to the left, very hard to the left. The liberals might vote for him instead of Davis.

BARNES: Well, thanks a lot, Jill.

STEWART: You're welcome.

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