California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been playing ball with his Democratic opponents, in what some see as a bid to win the moderate voters he needs to win re-election this fall.
updated 8/31/2006 5:57:38 PM ET 2006-08-31T21:57:38

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to cap California's greenhouse gas emissions is just the latest in a string of recent deals with the Democrats that could help him win back the moderate voters so vital to his re-election bid this fall.

The deal announced Wednesday between the Republican governor and leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature would make California the first state to limit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from factories and other industrial sites.

Earlier in the week, the two sides agreed to raise the state's minimum wage and create a prescription drug discount program.

Republican principles
Democrats have been playing ball with Schwarzenegger since they passed a $37.3 billion bond package in May that the governor had sought. The money would go toward transportation, levee repairs, school buildings and affordable housing.

The deals have opened up Schwarzenegger to charges that he is jettisoning his Republican principles as he seeks re-election. But they are political treasure for Schwarzenegger because they appeal to the moderates who dominate the state.

Schwarzenegger alienated them last year with his polarizing special election in which he clashed with the state's powerful teachers union.

At a news conference Wednesday to announce the global warming deal, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a Democrat from Los Angeles, pronounced it "a huge victory for the governor."

Hurting their own
Democrats are eagerly working with the governor, despite the potential political damage to their own candidate for governor, state Treasurer Phil Angelides.

"For Democrats, if you're here to do public policy and the governor is offering a deal, you have to take a look at it," said Assemblyman Dario Frommer, a Los Angeles Democrat.

The Democrats' willingness to strike deals that hurt Angelides could mean they do not believe he can win in November, said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who is not affiliated with the Angelides campaign.

"Their interest and desire to pursue these subjects is an indication of how strong a campaign they think Angelides is running," Lehane said.

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And they are more than willing to take advantage of the governor's political need to compromise. "Arnold has been willing to literally give everyone in Sacramento their particular Christmas gift early this year," Lehane said.

Pursuing moderates
Schwarzenegger has a 13-point lead over Angelides in a poll released this week by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent.

In pursuing some of the legislation that could endear him to moderates, Schwarzenegger clearly risks alienating conservatives and business leaders.

Business leaders warned that the greenhouse gas measure could drive away business and kill jobs.

As for the minimum wage deal, Schwarzenegger opposed any increase when he was elected. But this time he agreed to raise it by $1.25 an hour.

On the prescription drug deal, the governor's election-year turnaround was even more dramatic. He agreed to impose sanctions on drug companies that do not offer discounts to people who otherwise have to pay full retail price, a position he flatly rejected two years ago.

Opposition charges
Schwarzenegger's compromises leave him open to charges he is flip-flopping to win support beyond his Republican base, which makes up just 38 percent of the electorate.

"He's absolutely willing to prostitute himself on anything," said Angelides adviser Bill Carrick. "How humiliating it must be to be a Republican in this state."

Schwarzenegger press secretary Margita Thompson said Schwarzenegger was influenced only by the improved economy.

"The governor has been consistent in fighting to bring affordability of health care to consumers," she said. "And now that he's gotten the budget on a better footing, we can sustain an increase in the minimum wage, ensuring that workers share in the economic expansion."

Mark Baldassare a pollster for the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, said Democrats would lose credibility if they refused to work with the governor on issues that are important to their constituencies.

"Global warming, raising the minimum wage - these are pretty popular things in California right now," Baldassare said.

But, he said, handing the governor victories on key Democratic issues can't help Angelides.

"It takes away one of the most potent messages for a Democratic candidate, which is Republicans don't care about working people and the environment," he said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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