Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Arnold Effect: Senate Race Tests His Coattails ; Incumbent Boxer Faces a Strong Republican Rival in a Race That May Reveal a Comeback for the State GOP

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Arnold Effect: Senate Race Tests His Coattails ; Incumbent Boxer Faces a Strong Republican Rival in a Race That May Reveal a Comeback for the State GOP

Article excerpt

By nearly all accounts, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pumping up public enthusiasm in the Golden State. Voter approval is high as Republicans gush and one-time doubters concede that the Hollywood muscleman's gleaming teeth brightened the fiscal gloom, too.

Now, an important litmus test of California's new Republican possibilities is under way: the Senate race between former Secretary of State Bill Jones and Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer.

Praised by Republicans but largely unknown to Independents and Democrats, Jones is a leading Republican here and the overwhelming victor in the GOP's March primary. In a state that's cast off many moderates in primaries, Jones - conservative but not far right - was a vocal supporter and campaigner in Schwarzenegger's race. The Republicans that California Democrats find among the most palatable - Schwarzenegger and Sen. John McCain of Arizona - endorse Jones, too.

The return of California's GOP?

The fact that Senator Boxer faces a challenge amplifies the question of whether the GOP can stage a Schwarzenegger-led comeback. From now through November's presidential election, analysts say, that's the story to watch: whether the governor's coattails will be as broad as his smile and whether Republicans - whose fortunes have long sagged here - and President Bush himself can ride Schwarzenegger's honeymoon train. Is the movie star's popularity strictly personal, they ask, or a harbinger of further expansion among Republicans promoting his formula for social tolerance and fiscal conservatism?

"There is no question California is enjoying a new era of enthusiasm and possibility because of its historic recall election," says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. "The question is, is this a new era of Republican possibilities or does it go no further than [Schwarzenegger's] popularity?"

To be sure, Boxer has a loyal following, and with over 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, she has a clear advantage - though Republicans say they'll register half a million new voters by November. Though more liberal than most senators, she's a national figure and is considered a formidable campaigner.

For his part, Jones is an eight-year assemblyman and eight-year secretary of state, author of the controversial "three strikes, you're out" law that became a national model. The former rancher and businessman won a second term as secretary of state in 1998 with the endorsement of nearly every major state newspaper. He's considered a specialist in agriculture, trade, and water issues and has received national attention for tightening voting laws.

"The attempt by conservative Bill Jones to unseat liberal Barbara Boxer will be the first big test in California of whether Arnold Schwarzenegger's rise to victory was an anomaly or [if] Republicans are making a comeback here," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. …

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