They’ll be back. That is if they take a lesson from the Governator.

While the Republicans have taken a hammering in the mid-terms and the Senate hangs in the balance, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been re-elected by a landslide.

Yet last year, Arnie was scoring lower in the polls in California than George W Bush has been of late. What’s happened?

Well, one of the key steps he has taken as been to distance himself from Dubya. “Trying to link me with George Bush is like trying to link me with an Oscar,” he has quipped.

And spin has played a role. In the lead up to the poll, the Governor staged an emotive photo-op at the scene of an arson attack that killed five firemen where he promised a reward leading to the capture of those responsible. Fourteen news crews joined him.

This is just part of a wider “Protecting the California Dream” campaign that has seen Schwarzenegger visit schools, churches and community organisations.

But policy and positioning have played an important part in Schwarzenegger’s success. The Governor has apologised for his errors and moved towards the centre.

Some of his steps – increased education funding – have been motherhood material. Others – like his pioneering state measures to reduce greenhouse gasses – have been more radical.

Yet it may be Schwarzenegger’s rhetorical emphases that are most significant. The Republican Governor has sought to reach out to political opponents in his public comments.

“In many ways what’s happening in California is what is going on nationally – a rejection of very polarised, conservative policies,” the director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Bruce Cain, says. “People are tired of the rancour, the failure to deal with important problems, such as immigration and Iraq. They want to give a signal they are ready for something more pragmatic and compromising.”

Peter Fray

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