Cross-posted on Governor Phil
Tuesday’s election results were not what we wanted. And electing Arnold Schwarzenegger over Phil Angelides will not move this state forward as a leader for the nation. This we know. What is less clear, and what we must sort through now, is why we got the results we did.
There will be a lot of theories as to what caused Phil’s loss. Certainly there were a variety of factors, not the least of which is going up against a celebrity incumbent Governor who can summon an admiring gaggle of print and tv journalists with the snap of his fingers. But we also must confront the brutal facts of our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of this campaign, if we want to learn anything from this experience and prepare for the fights ahead on the road to 2010.
At the top of the list for California progressives is figuring out the language and the narrative around taxes. We tried to push this on Governor Phil, but Phil’s own website still invoked conservative frames of “tax relief” when discussing his economic plans. As this race showed, relentless anti-tax attacks are about the only thing left for Schwarzenegger-style Republicans to beat us on. It is very easy for them to steal all of our other progressive issues and win over Democrats (minimum wage, environment, education.) We can expect the next moderate Republican candidate, who I predict will be newly elected Insurance Commissioner Poizner, to follow this formula in the future.
The other thing we have to do as progressives, particularly those in charge of running these major campaigns, is to figure out very early on a story and a narrative for the campaign. Phil never did this, though he had several different messages in the campaign. The closest we had was “I’m the anti-Arnold,” which was never a good idea considering Schwarzenegger’s history of bouncing around in popularity, and that strategy proved unworkable the minute Schwarzenegger gave his State of the State address in January. Schwarzenegger’s message was “I’m moving California forward.” No matter what Phil did, he could not diminish the effectiveness of this message. We have a lot to learn from the Schwarzenegger campaign operation this cycle, including the relentless message discipline and consistency of all the campaign materials — from the website to the tv ads to the email list.
This election did not help us achieve everything we wanted. But like every election, it will give us valuable lessons to take with us as we continue to build our movement. That is our work from here, and always.