November 8, 2005

Californians vote, Schwarzenegger support tested

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A bitter special election fight
between California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his big labor
foes over a slate of reforms went before the voters on Tuesday,
closely watched across the country for its impact on the
political landscape and the former film star's reputation.

Californians went to the polls after the most expensive
special election in state history, voting on eight ballot
initiatives. The fate of four backed by Schwarzenegger could
serve as a bellwether of his political power and chances for
reelection in 2006.

Among those being followed across the country are
Proposition 75, Schwarzenegger's bid to curb the massive power
of public employee unions over state government, an initiative
to change the way electoral districts are assigned and another
that would allow parents to know when a doctor was performing
an abortion on their young daughters.

Proposition 75 would require union officials to seek
permission from members before spending their dues on political
causes, and Schwarzenegger's endorsement triggered a furious
and sustained attack on the governor by the unions, who
outspent him 2-1 in the campaign.

"It's a much bigger battle than I thought it would be,"
Schwarzenegger said at a campaign stop outside San Francisco on
Monday, adding: "It's a tremendous fight."

In all, some $260 million has been spent in the campaign.

Schwarzenegger, who has seen his approval ratings drop in
the past year in the face of furious attacks by his big labor
foes, voted near his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of
Brentwood, telling reporters he was "very optimistic" as he
entered the polls with wife Maria Shriver.


He declined to speak to waiting reporters and ignored a
lone protestor, who wore a Schwarzenegger mask, carried signs
that read "Terminated" and "True Liar" in reference to his
films, and mocked his Austrian accent.

Polls have shown approval ratings for the Republican
governor, an action film star who enjoyed immense popularity
after sweeping into office in a 2003 recall election, drop amid
the withering attacks by labor forces.

The four measures he supports were also trailing in recent
polls and if all were soundly defeated on Tuesday, he may find
his political capital drained ahead of the 2006 election.

Aides to the governor believe he will surprise pollsters
and pull out wins in at least three of the propositions, citing
internal tracking polls.

Political experts say much depends on turnout in a special
election that has turned off many voters still weary from the
recall campaign that toppled former California Gov. Gray Davis
and swept Schwarzenegger to power.

Schwarzenegger has also campaigned for Prop. 74, which
would require teachers to wait an additional three years before
earning tenure; Prop. 76, which would limit increases in state
spending; and Prop. 77, which would take power to draw
legislative districts away from legislators and give it to a
panel of retired judges.

Also on the ballot are an initiative that would require
doctors to notify parents before performing an abortion on
girls under the age of 18; two measures regulating prescription
drug prices; and Prop. 80, which would repeal provisions of
1996 electricity deregulation.