How does a wonkish, little-known state treasurer wrestle away the job of California's larger-than-life action-hero governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger? For Phil Angelides, who announced on March 15 that he'll be a candidate in next year's gubernatorial election, the answer is, Start 20 months early and kick fiercely at the opponent's shins. Then kick some more.
"Bush-Schwarzenegger economics are a race to the bottom, with lower taxes for the wealthy, less responsibility for corporations and less regulation of multinational companies," says Angelides, trotting out some of his attack lines for the coming campaign. As a director of California's huge public employee pension systems, the 51-year-old Harvard graduate has been an outspoken champion of corporate governance reform. (He played a role in the ouster of former New York Stock Exchange chairman Dick Grasso because of Grasso's outsize compensation.) He plans to continue sounding such themes in the gubernatorial campaign, seeking to tag Schwarzenegger as an ally of fat-cat corporate types.
Angelides, who has won two statewide contests for treasurer, boasts a $14 million campaign war chest and endorsements from two prominent California Democrats: U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. But he's no shoo-in for the party's nomination next spring. Potential primary opponents include California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who has raised $11 million so far, and State Controller Steve Westly, a former EBay executive who has raised $1.7 million and could also rely on his vast personal fortune for campaign financing.
Then there's actor-turned-director Rob Reiner -- this is California, after all -- best known for his role as "Meathead," the wide-eyed liberal 20-something on the 1970s sitcom All in the Family. Although Reiner hasn't said whether he plans to run, he led a poll of potential Democratic voters conducted in February (Angelides finished third, behind Lockyer).
But a potentially crowded field isn't keeping Angelides from focusing on Schwarzenegger. "The governor's road map, which is to borrow heavily, has left us with a big mountain of debt and deficits as far as the eye can see," he says. "This is going to be a race about big choices."