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Interview With Mark Mellman, Ed Rogers

Aired August 24, 2003 - 11:15   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Bill Simon's exit from the recall election and those new poll numbers could change the political panorama for candidates. Let's talk tactics now with our guests in Washington. Ed Rogers is a republican strategist, and Mark Mellman is a democratic strategist. Thank you so much, gentlemen, for being here this morning, we appreciate your time, of course.
Let me just first begin, if we could, with this poll that has come out. 35 percent of support now going to Cruz Bustamante. 22 percent for Schwarzenegger. But only 800 people polled. Mark, what do you think of this?

MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The other thing that this poll shows is that the recall question itself is getting closer. 50 percent say they want to recall Davis. 45 percent say they don't. So right now, you have twice as many people who want to keep Gray Davis as want Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor. The reality is, people in California resent the fact that republicans turned the state into a circus sideshow, and they want an apology from the Republican Party. That's why they're rallying around Cruz Bustamante, even beginning to rally around Gray Davis, even though, clearly, they have problems with the governor.

COLLINS: Ed Rogers, your comment on that?

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I wouldn't pay any attention to any single snapshot poll. Part of what's difficult in polling this election is trying to assess turnout. Who's going to turn out? Who's going to vote? I would say, number one, the people that are going to vote are the people that have some problem with Gray Davis. The people that feel most strongly they don't want more of the same.

Second of all, the only candidate enthusiastically bringing voters to the ballot place is going to be Schwarzenegger. When you combine those two, it's hard for me to see, unless the republican field and the conservative field is really diffused, it's hard to see how Gray Davis survives and how anybody beats Schwarzenegger.

COLLINS: Let's talk about that. What are Davis' chances? And will Simon's exit hurt Cruz Bustamante by sending Simon's votes off to Schwarzenegger? Mark?

MELLMAN: Truth is, in this race, we have seen more people say they're interested in this race in California than have ever said that about any race in California's history. So the reality is, Ed's right. We don't know who's going to turn out. But I wouldn't bet on the low side given what we're seeing. I'd bet on the high side.

As I say, there's an increasing resentment at the fact, among Californians, at the fact that the republicans have turned the state into a sideshow. Cruz Bustamante's getting the united support of democrats, the congressional delegation, teachers. All kinds of folks coming out and saying Cruz Bustamante ought to get the vote on the number two question, vote no on the recall, vote yes for Bustamante. That's becoming increasingly the democrats' united behind that view.

And the truth is, Arnold Schwarzenegger, he does not have significant support. There's a difference between celebrity on the one had, and votes on the other. Most Californians, more Californians have an unfavorable view of Schwarzenegger than a favorable view. Fewer than one in five.

COLLINS: Let me let you comment on this no/yes strategy.

ROGERS: The whole yes/no question of Gray Davis, you have to think that the notion of are people in California going to turn out and vote for more of the same? Which is essentially what Gray Davis offers. That question has been answered. He has no chance. He is gone and I would suspect the Vegas odds makers are going to give pretty tight odds on the notion of him sticking around. And then, it's whether or not you want incrementally more of the same with a guy like Bustamante, or somebody that's been involved in state politics for a while. And by definition, has been part of the problem. Or do you want a new face, an outsider coming in like Schwarzenegger? I would bet on Schwarzenegger.

COLLINS: What about the idea, as we have been talking about this for the last several weeks, that Schwarzenegger is sort of setting himself up as a moderate republican? Married to Maria Shriver, obviously, of the Kennedy family. How do you think all of that plays in, Mark? I'm sorry, Ed.

ROGERS: He will define himself over the period of the campaign. And if he is a moderate republican, a so-called moderate republican, whatever that is, the Republican Party is a big tent. Particularly a big tent in California. We can accommodate those views.

MELLMAN: The first hurdle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, I think, is to prove he's capable of doing the job. There's no question he's capable of being a movie actor; there's no question he's capable of drawing huge numbers of fans. I like some of his movies, too. But there's a big difference between drawing fans, being a celebrity, and running the state of California. It's one of the largest economies in the world. It's a serious business. I don't think Californians are going to trust a guy with no experience whatever coming into deeply troubled state and trying to turn it around.

COLLINS: So, Ed...

MELLMAN: That's the first hurdle he has to overcome.

COLLINS: Understood. Ed, what is this election all about? ROGERS: Well, it's about either more of the same or dramatic change. By any standard, more of the same is death for California. It's repelling business, repelling people. They have to do some things big, bold and different. And Schwarzenegger's the most logical venue and the most logical vehicle to really bring in dramatic change.

COLLINS: Mark, would Bustamante just be more of the same?

MELLMAN: I think Bustamante's a significant change. He's a different guy than Gray Davis. But I think at the end of the day with this election, it's really about the Republican Party unsatisfied with the results of the last election. Rally behind a congressman who's been in and out of trouble with the law to use an arcane provision of California law to overturn that election and to turn this state into a circus sideshow. I don't think Californians like that one bit, and I think that's going to become the dominant thinking as people walk into the polls. Gray Davis hasn't done well, but the circumstances have been horrendous. And if Arnold Schwarzenegger's not going to be able to change the real life circumstances that Gray Davis has faced.

COLLINS: This is going to have to be the last word. Mark Mellman, a democratic strategist, and Ed Rogers, a republican strategist, thanks so much, gentlemen, once again, for your time.

MELLMAN: Thank you.

ROGERS: Thank you.


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