Schwarzenegger victory is Republicans' biggest success

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The Independent US

America couldn't claim too many happy Republicans after the pounding the party took in America's mid-terms. One unlikely place, though, turned into a veritable sanctuary for them on an otherwise dismal night - the ballroom of Frank Sinatra's favourite Beverly Hills hotel, where the party faithful rallied around their biggest national success, the re-election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California.

Here, in the Democratic heart of one of the most reliably Democratic states, the GOP finally had something to feel good about, a victory that not only bucked the general trend but also pointed the way to recovery and rebuilding for the future.

A beaming Mr Schwarzenegger, who trounced his Democratic challenger by more than 15 percentage points, took the stage and promptly made one of his movie-star wisecracks. "You know, I love doing sequels," he said. But he also laid out a vision of Republican leadership 180 degrees removed from the George Bush-Karl Rove model of divisiveness and grassroots mobilisation based on a few social "wedge" issues like gay marriage and abortion.

"Campaigning does not have be personal, and politics does not have to be gridlocked," Mr Schwarzenegger said, insisting that all Californians, in the end, want the same things - good schools, affordable health care, a buoyant economy and protection for the environment. "Let's come together," he added, "let's build the future."

This sort of consensual talk was the key to his re-election, just 12 months after a very different Mr Schwarzenegger tried to ram through a raft of right-wing ballot initiatives in a special off-year election and lost every one of them. This year, he has worked closely with Democrats to enact greenhouse gas-cutting legislation, increase the minimum wage and sponsor California's most ambitious infrastructure-building project in a generation.

Tuesday night's stage at the Beverly Hilton was the embodiment of the new approach, as he surrounded himself with several key Democratic Party staff members and campaign supporters. None was more important than his wife, Maria Shriver, who, as a member of the Kennedy family, is the closest thing the Democratic Party has to royalty.

Gone were the traditional Republican red white and blue colours, replaced with a kinder, gentler green and orange. Everything - the ticker tape, the balloons, even the t-shirts - followed the new colour scheme. The make-up of the ballroom, everyone from right-wing Christians to Democratic litigation lawyers, certainly hinted at a possible new kind of Republican majority for the post-Bush era.

"Democrats, Republicans and independents came together and voted for the one man who we think embodies the best of all parties," Ms Shriver said as she introduced her husband. The cheers only reinforced the feeling that this was one of the few places in America where Republicans had something to feel good about.

"Actually, it's the only place," cracked a Republican lawyer, Bob Huston.