What are Bush’s Prospects in the State?

Appearing recently on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger boldly predicted that President George W. Bush will carry California in November. If he truly believes that, he must be smoking more than just his trademark stogies.

First, there is the little matter of Bush’s sorry showing in 2000. He and his GOP apparatus spent $15 million in California, far more than any presidential candidate of either party had ever pumped into the state. By his campaign’s own estimate, Bush traveled to California 16 times — and flooded the state with surrogates of every type, including his mom and half-Hispanic nephew. The Bush campaign and Republican Party funded a full-bore media blitz here.

By contrast, Al Gore showed up only twice after the Democratic National Convention — the second time mostly by accident to appear on a Halloween edition of “The Tonight Show.” His campaign didn’t run a single television spot in this most media-intensive of states. But when the votes were counted, Gore tromped Bush by 12 percentage points and 1.3 million votes.

Since then, things in the case of Bush v. California have only gotten worse. The whole relationship got off on the wrong foot when, just days before his inauguration, Bush mouthed off to a national television audience, saying the energy problems California was experiencing were the state’s own fault and there was nothing he could do to help.

President Clinton tended the Golden State like a prized vineyard, spending more time here than any president except Ronald Reagan — who, of course, actually lived in the state.

It took Bush four months into his presidency before he journeyed to California, and his subsequent trips have been few and far between — mostly quick fundraising jaunts, like the one earlier this month. In fact, it’s a standing joke among Democrats that Bush thinks California is a foreign country because of the word “republic” on our state flag. (You know how he is with geography.)

On that first trip to California as president in May of 2001, former oilman Bush wagged his finger and warned us of the evils of energy price controls — even while his cronies and campaign bankrollers at Enron and other Texas-based energy companies were, as we now know, robbing us blind.

Since then, the catalog of Bush administration transgressions against California is thick — and growing fatter by the day.

We still have extracted only a pittance in refunds — courtesy of the industry-friendly, Bush-controlled Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — from those piratical energy companies that manipulated electricity prices and made a killing off of us.

On the environment particularly, Bush has battered California from all sides.

The president’s Justice Department sided with big oil companies in going to court to deny the state the right to stop new offshore drilling in federal waters if it poses a threat to the environment. The administration also ganged up with the big auto manufacturers to sue California over our innovative zero-emissions-vehicles policy.

In fact, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has publicly complained that his office is spending so many millions defending the state against Bush’s legal predations that it is diverting money from fighting pollution. (This is the same Bush who’s against frivolous lawsuits — unless, I guess, his own administration is filing them.) What’s more, Bush has proposed opening up the old-growth groves in the Giant Sequoia National Monument to logging – and that right after he made a much-publicized visit to the Sequoia National Park to stare at one of the ancient trees.

He has advocated allowing oil-and-gas exploration in the fragile Los Padres National Forest. He’s moved to exempt from federal clean-water laws the state’s seasonal ponds used by migratory birds. His pal over at the Defense Department, Donald Rumsfeld, wants to declare military bases safe harbors from the state’s strict environmental laws. Bush himself badmouthed California’s adoption in 2002 of the nation’s first law banning the gases that contribute to global warming.

And the sins go on. Bush’s trigger-happy attorney general, John Ashcroft, last year threatened to slap criminal charges on the state’s chief firearms-control official if California continued to use a federal databank to hunt down those who are barred from owning guns.

Bush has nominated the most unabashedly right-wing justice on the California Supreme Court, Janice Rogers Brown, to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. (Actually, Democrats might applaud that move, hoping to get her out of the state.) To add insult to injury, the Bush administration even tried to designate a landfill — i.e., garbage dump — near Fresno as a national historic site. Is that trashy, or what? Now, Republicans will argue that Commander-in-Chief Bush after 9/11 is not the same candidate Bush who got creamed in California four years ago.

That’s probably true. But based on his actions and policies so far, the Bush of ’04 appears to be pretty much the same old Bush who told Californians in the 2000 campaign that he understood them because he, too, was a Westerner, raised in the dusty oil-patch town of Midland, Texas. California, of course, has about as much in common with West Texas as it does with the Gusev Crater, in which the Mars rover Spirit landed.

Democrats will no doubt be put on the defensive here and elsewhere this year by the massively funded Bush reelection machine, which has already started its TV commercials. And having a popular California Republican governor like Schwarzenegger clearly will be an asset.

But certain Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry has been giving major speeches in the state for more than a year denouncing Bush’s inexplicably hostile actions against California. And the latest Field Poll already shows Bush with his highest disapproval rating (51 percent) among state voters since taking office — and trailing Kerry by a bigger margin than he was beaten by Gore. (Smoke that, Arnold.)

If they’re smart, Democrats will continue to remind Golden State voters of Bush’s war record — his record of war against California and the state’s progressive policies that are considered second nature to a majority of its citizens.