California's love affair with Arnie is terminated

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The Independent US

The big-screen action hero-turned-Governor of California is fighting for his political life. On Tuesday, he hopes voters will approve a package of measures that he either put on the ballot himself or personally approved. But the election itself has been roundly denounced as a waste of time and money by a majority of the electorate, and the four key Schwarzenegger-backed issues are rated anywhere from modestly to catastrophically in opinion polls. Having campaigned for the governorship as an independent-minded Republican beholden to nobody, Mr Schwarzenegger is now seen by critics in both major parties as having succumbed to the great American disease of rule by division. Three of his four ballot initiatives, which cover everything from budget management to political fundraising by unions to job security for teachers, are widely viewed as partisan attacks on the public service workers - teachers, nurses, fire fighters and police - who have been most vocal in their criticism of him.

Opinion polls show overwhelming public support for his enemies, while approval of his performance is almost exactly the same as President Bush's. That, in turn, is having a knock-on effect on his campaign for Tuesday's so-called "special election". The Governor's handlers recently realised that associating Mr Schwarzenegger with the ballot initiatives was harming their prospects. So they pulled every advert they had planned in which he made a personal appearance and hastily ordered a new one, in which the Governor strikes a note of contrition for the disastrous past few months. "I've had a lot to learn," he says, "and sometimes I learned the hard way."

All is not lost. Special elections are notorious for their low turnouts, and the Schwarzenegger camp is hoping that many of the Governor's detractors will stay away and allow him at least one or two victories out of the four. One ballot initiative, not sponsored by Mr Schwarzenegger, appears designed as a deliberate inducement to conservative voters, since it would require parental notification for teenagers seeking abortions. Much like the initiatives on abortion and gay marriage that boosted the Republican vote in last year's presidential election, the idea here seems to be to get right-wing Christians to the polls, in the hope that they would then vote for the rest of Mr Schwarzenegger's agenda.

But the Governor's supporters, once thick on the ground, have been noticeable this time mainly by their absence. Most glaring has been his own wife, Maria Shriver, who has offered not one public word of support. As a Democrat and a member of the Kennedy family, Ms Shriver presumably can't bring herself to endorse an open attack on the very groups her party holds most dear - teachers and healthcare workers. If her husband is defeated, it will raise questions about whether he can seek re-election in a year's time. He has said he will run, but this appears primarily motivated by a desire to secure corporate contributions for the special election.