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Analysts Say Schwarzenegger Victory Could Have Impact on US National Politics - 2003-10-08

Arnold Schwarzenegger's decisive victory in the California recall election could have political ramifications well beyond the borders of the Golden State.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken California by storm. Exit poll results indicate that California voters unhappy with the status quo were drawn to Mr. Schwarzenegger's celebrity and to the fact that he is a political outsider. "I will not fail you, I will not disappoint you and I will not let you down," he said.

Some political experts now say the Schwarzenegger victory is a warning shot of sorts to incumbent politicians all around the country.

Thomas Mann is an expert on government and politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Nationally, I sort of see this as anti-incumbent, anti-establishment, public distemper with the economic conditions in the country," he said.

And Thomas Mann predicts Democrats might try similar tactics against Republican office holders around the country. "The temptation will be for Democrats to press this elsewhere in other states with recall provisions and for them to seek other means of holding Republican executives responsible for bad times," he said.

But California is only one of 18 states with recall provisions in which voters can remove elected officials in special elections.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says that will limit the impact of the California recall vote on the rest of the country. "If the economy continues to deteriorate and Iraq continues to go sour, it is possible that we will see more incumbents defeated as people express their unhappiness with the status quo. However, it would be wrong to suggest, as so many pundits are, that somehow this particular recall will spread across the country," he said.

Larry Sabato says California Governor Gray Davis was removed from office because he fell out of touch with voters. And Professor Sabato predicts that incumbent politicians are going to spend a lot more time trying to connect with voters in order to hold their support. "I think you will see politicians doing a lot more town meetings, seeking personal contact with voters and listening much more carefully to people's concerns," he said.

Other analysts say Republicans could benefit, at least in the short term, from the Schwarzenegger victory in California.

California strongly supported Bill Clinton and Al Gore in their presidential bids. But political expert David Gergen, who served as an adviser to four different presidents, says having Arnold Schwarzenegger as California's governor could help President Bush in his re-election bid next year.

"And California will now be in play, I think, whereas it was not seen to be in play recently. And that means the Democrats, for example, will have to spend money to defend California. They will still be favored, or at least they should be, but that makes it a tougher race for the Democrats nationally," he said.

California's recall election did make history. Gray Davis become only the second U.S. governor to be removed from office by popular vote. North Dakota Governor Lynn Frazier was the first back in 1921.