Broken vows may hurt him

Voters detest flip-flop artists. They also can’t stand politicians who make easy promises and later ignore them, pretending they never said anything. Stick this prevaricator tag on an opponent and you’re halfway to victory.

That’s something for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his new campaign team of former George W. Bush operatives to remember as the soft talk ends in the Democratic battle for the right to challenge him this fall.

Right now, attacks by rivals Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, and Steve Westly, the state’s controller and chief check-writer, are all directed at each other.

But it will only be a short while before the Republican governor’s second honeymoon ends. Soon it will again be open season on Arnold and his apparently sanguine new crew will find out whether their man has really gained ground over the six months since his special election failure of last fall.

If Angelides can score points with Democrats by essentially calling his rival soft on Arnold, and if Westly can angrily retort that Angelides “has never seen a tax he didn’t like,” far rougher rhetoric about Schwarzenegger cannot be far behind.

Says Westly, “I do not want to spend much time kicking my primary election opponent. The next election is something completely different.”

With the June 6 primary barely six weeks off, the months have ended when the only television spots airing that mentioned Schwarzenegger were rhapsodies to his record sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

What can voters expect to see immediately after the primary? For sure, there will be no respite in the campaigning. Angelides has been in full campaign mode since early 2004, when he billed himself as the “anti-Arnold” and took to the road opposing almost everything the governor was doing. If nominated, he will not stop.

And Westly, who made most of his large fortune as the first marketing manager for Internet auction house eBay, says he will take no breaks. Asked about a possible respite, he mentions the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, whose large lead disappeared when he took two weeks off after his party’s convention.

Now little-known, Westly and Angelides know the Democratic nominee will suddenly become a household name the day after the primary. Each vows to take advantage of that new name recognition.

They say they’ll be in attack mode from primary Election Night on.

Hoping voters had forgotten, Schwarzenegger spent most of early 2006 eagerly promoting a far bigger bond package, all to be repaid by taxpayers of the future. And many more.

The only question about a series of potentially devastating commercials showing video of the governor making promises, then ignoring his own words, is when they will appear.

“You can be sure we will do commercials on the promises,” Westly said in an interview. “But we don’t have it in the can yet. Emphasis on the yet.”

Both Democrats know their current battle means nothing if the survivor can’t rock Schwarzenegger, the sooner the better. And few messages are more devastating than a litany of broken promises, both on the personal and policy levels.

Write to political columnist Thomas Elias at