Latte Nation

Jack in the Box

What Gray Davis needs is spoilers -- lots of them.

By 7.28.03

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Media junkies want to know: Just how much of a carnival is the race to unseat California governor Gray Davis likely to become? Shock jock Michael Savage may throw his hat into the ring, Arianna is mulling a run, the kindergarten cop hasn't made up his mind yet, and, oh yes, Jack Kemp is being "urged" by supporters to step into the breach. We're in dancing bear territory folks.

Or perhaps it's a quick game of Find the Lady. When Drudge announced last Thursday night that Kemp was thinking of running as a "consensus candidate," my immediate response was, "for whom?", and I suspect that wasn't an unusual reply. Jack Kemp?? The guy who got creamed by a human robot in the 1996 debates? The man who blamed slow economic growth for Roberto Alomar's rather Pavlovian response to a bad call? The same Jack Kemp who's recently taken to shilling for Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez?

I assumed the Kemp balloon was either the result of some inner party squabble, or someone's idea of a sick, sick joke. But in truth it could represent something far worse. California is a state whose politics are so dysfunctional it's practically Canadian. Like their comrades north of the 49th parallel, California Dems have managed to mop up in statewide contests through a strategy of divide and conquer. So long as they can keep the opposition at each other's throats, they win in a walk.

This once-in-a-lifetime possibility of recall could take the current political arrangement and dash it against the rocks. In fact, at first glance, this seems like a decent bet. Davis's approval ratings are in the toilet. A bare majority of voters currently favors recall. Even Davis's political friends don't really like him; they simply see him as being necessary to continue the gravy train to teachers, trial lawyers, unions, and other Democratic constituencies. If they could toss him in favor of a less loathed candidate, they would.

The reason that no major Dem has challenged Davis is simple: He may be a lousy governor but he knows how to win elections. Remember, there are two hurdles in the recall process and Davis can use both to his advantage. First, over 50 percent of the voters have to pull the lever to toss him, and second, the new governor has to be chosen from the list of opposing candidates. The winner is whoever gets a plurality of the votes, but only if 50 percent plus one tell Davis to take a hike.

Because the bar to entry to the gubernatorial race is set so absurdly low (I'm fairly certain I could get on the ballot if I got on a plane tomorrow), virtually anyone can run, and will. So far, Tom McClintock, Darrell Issa (the scoundrel who financed the recall), and a few others have announced their candidacies, with more to follow. The competing factions of the Republican Party are not likely to unite behind a single candidate because, as they see it, they don't have to. It's an open field and whoever gets a plurality wins.

But that only comes into play if the people vote for recall, and Davis can plausibly claim that a vote against him is a vote in favor of God only knows what. This short election season is basically a defensive game and should play right into the glove of the Glenn Hall of California politics. In fact, given (a) the normal tendency of Golden State Republicans to self-destruct, and (b) the unusually high minority turnout expected to protest Ward Connerly's "Racial Privacy Initiative," we may soon have to dust off an old, hated moniker. Who knew this decade's Come Back Kid would be such a stuffed shirt?

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About the Author
Jeremy Lott is an editor of rare.us.