Why Is Schwarzenegger's Support Sliding?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 23, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, R-CALIF.: I've been having the greatest time ever since I became governor. I love my connection with the people; I love the partnership that I've formed with the people of California; and I think because of that, we will do some really true reforms this year in many different areas.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Well, moderate Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) might feel a tight bond with his people, but not all of them are feeling so strongly about him. A new poll showing the Governor dropping 10 approval points in September, although he's still above 50 percent.

His support among Republicans remains solid, but his Democratic support is taking a nosedive. Joining me now, Republican Strategist Rick Davis and Democratic Strategist Steve McMahon. Big question to you, Rick: so, what does Arnold's drop in approval mean for the Republican Party as a whole?

RICK DAVIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I don't think it means anything for the Republican Party.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, come on. It's got to mean something, Rick.

DAVIS: I think Arnold has enjoyed a huge honeymoon since becoming governor under extraordinary circumstances. He's accomplished a lot on his agenda; has put out a very aggressive agenda for this legislative cycle and that's bound to start becoming more political.

GIBSON: OK. Let me rephrase the question.

DAVIS: And as you said, Democrats are the ones who have left him, not Republicans.

GIBSON: Right, but Arnold was the guy who was going to take California back for Republicans. This was going to be a big deal for Republicans.

DAVIS: Well, look [at] it. Arnold's at 55 percent approval rating. The legislature, dominated by liberal Democrats, is at net negative 20 percent, which means they're at 35 percent approval rating, exactly the opposite of Arnold's approval rating. So, I think everything in politics is in comparison and compared to the biggest group of Democrats in the state, he shines.

GIBSON: All right.

Now, Steve, I have to take both sides of the question depending on whom I'm talking to, so I'll flip it here while I'm talking to you. Arnold has also gotten in some trouble lately for appearing to pick fights with major groups of women, like nurses, and teachers. And in your mind, does that account for this drop in his approval rating?

MCMAHON: I think what mostly has happened here is he's gone from being an action figure to a Republican. He has picked those fights, as you've mentioned, John. I think that probably hasn't helped him much.

But basically what you see here is Democrats are set until and they're basically saying, "This is a guy who is pursuing Republican policies, policies we disagree with. Picking fights with teachers and nurses only confirms that." So, I think it is just a partisanizing (sic) of the electorate.

I agree with Rick. I think that this is a situation where he transcended politics for a long time and now he's got to govern and that's just a little bit harder to do.

GIBSON: But, Rick, if I could go back.

We're coming up on a way out and, Steve will have some say in who plays in 2008 as you will, too — but we're looking at there's not going to be a Republican incumbent in the White House. It's going to be a clear board for Republicans. And people had a lot of hope, even though he's constitutionally barred from running for president that Arnold-style Republicanism was going to help Republicans in a place that's been Democrat for so long.

Isn't this a worrisome sign that maybe all he was was a movie star all along?

DAVIS: Well, I don't know how many of those Democrats that abandoned Arnold in this latest poll were Bush supporter, probably none. So, whether or not that group and the current circumstances that you're talking about really affects the 2008 race is real speculation.

I would say, John, on one issue, and that's the teachers union and the nurses, Arnold's not declaring war on these women. Arnold's declaring war on the unions and they've tried to turn this into a fight on women. And the term that he used that got everybody up in arms is he said that they don't like me in Sacramento because I've been kicking their butts.

Well, that's not a sexist remark. I think there's a lot of dirty politics being played in California and Arnold's, to some degree, experiencing politics the hard way the first time.

GIBSON: Yes. Steve, that was half of the phrase. The other thing was he called both those unions, which are widely perceived to be dominated by women, teachers and nurses, he called them special interests and that he had gone to Sacramento (search) and kicked, in Rick's words, the rear ends...

DAVIS: Arnold's words.

GIBSON: Arnold's words, which Rick repeated, he kicked the rear ends of special interests.

Now, I would think that's not such an unusual statement, is it?

MCMAHON: That may not be an unusual statement, but when it's applied to two groups that are pretty well liked by the public, I think nurses probably have a favorable rating in the 70s compared to Arnold's 55, and teachers probably are in the 60s.

So, he's kicking the butts of groups that are pretty popular; kicking the butts of the unions that are dominated by women. And you can understand why there are some women who are, quite understandably upset.

GIBSON: You don't think it's opportunism on the part of union leaders to say, "Ahh, he's being a misogynist again. Let's kick him around the block on this."?

MCMAHON: I have not heard that term used by anybody but you, John. I do think — this is politics. It's not beanbag. Arnold's taken his shots and he's a grown up and he understands being in politics that people are going to take shots at him. And the public will be the arbiters here.

GIBSON: Rick Davis, do you think Arnold maybe learned something out of this and maybe he won't talk about special interests and kicking their rear ends. And if he is going to chew out a union, be a little more delicate about it?

DAVIS: No, I think actually one of the reasons that Arnold's at a 55 percent approval rating is because he says he's going to kick the butts of special interests in Sacramento. So, I think that you have to take a look at what's working for him. Because remember something, more is working for him than against him. He's got a very aggressive plan this year: he's going to try and reform a pension system that has hundreds of billions of dollars at stake; he's trying to reform prisons; he's trying to reform the budget process; he's trying to change redistricting. Talk about striking at the hearts of the legislative leadership in Sacramento. He's doing what he should be doing. He's a very active, progressive governor.

GIBSON: All right. Rick Davis and Steve McMahon, two guys who are going to tee us up for the next election, a few years down the road. Appreciate you guys; thanks for coming in.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you.

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