SAN DIEGO — Two years after his historic rise to power in the California recall election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Friday that he will run next year for a second term.
"I'm in here for seven years," he told 200 invited guests to a campaign forum in San Diego, adding: "Yes, I will run for governor."
The setting — a small, nondescript theater — offered a stark contrast to the high drama and visibility of his first announcement for governor in August 2003. Then, Schwarzenegger made his plans known during a live broadcast of NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," a move that elevated the recall of Democrat Gray Davis into a worldwide spectacle.
Friday, Schwarzenegger cast himself as "your warrior" against tax increases advocated by what he called "public employee union bosses." In counterpoint, a few hundred sign-carrying union protesters marched along the sidewalk outside the theater. They chanted "Vote No!" as half a dozen helmeted police officers, on horseback, watched.
Schwarzenegger's strategy is to try to recapture the outsider allure that he used to sweep into office in the 2003 recall. His popularity has slumped considerably in the last year, due to his increasingly partisan rhetoric, disputes with legislators, and epic fund-raising that appeared to contradict his recall vow to change the money-for-influence culture in the state capital. Recent polls have shown the governor popular among only about one-third of California voters.
The timing of the announcement was dictated in large part by the hope that it would spark donations to Schwarzenegger's favored initiatives on the Nov. 8 special election ballot. Some donors have been leery of forwarding the money without a guarantee that Schwarzenegger intended to run again.
Schwarzenegger is pushing three measures: Proposition 74, which would extend teachers' probation period from two years to five; Proposition 76, which would restrict state spending and enhance the governor's budget powers; and Proposition 77, which would strip state lawmakers of their power to draw congressional and legislative district maps. Recent polls have found all the measures losing.
Schwarzenegger's move Friday means that he will essentially be fighting two elections at once for the next two months: the initiative battle that pits the governor against well-funded labor unions will segue into the 2006 re-election race. A formal Schwarzenegger kickoff is expected after the special election.
Two statewide officeholders — Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly — have started running for the Democratic nomination to challenge the governor.
Democratic leaders responded to Friday's today's announcement with words that echoed the multimillion-dollar advertising assault against Schwarzenegger by unions intent on defeating his initiatives.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger came into office promising to improve our state," state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said in a statement. "Instead, he has not been the governor many thought he would be, and I think every Californian knows in their heart that he has not fulfilled the promises he made to all of us.
"Instead of working to improve the state, as he promised, he turned out to be the same type of Republican as George Bush, offering corporate special interest giveaways and favoring the wealthy over our citizens most in need."
The announcement, which Schwarzenegger had hinted about but not confirmed until Friday, came on the same day that state Republicans began gathering in Anaheim for their semi-annual convention. The governor is due to address the delegates today.