The 2006 political season may be creating some California history: a governor and lieutenant governor candidate running for election as a team.
Not just a team in name -- the Republican ticket -- but in actual operation: coordinated messages, ads and schedules, including joint campaigning in conservative areas.
The governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately in California. And although gubernatorial candidates often give lip service to cooperation, they have always ditched the "running mate" and sprinted off by themselves with their big bucks and own game plan.
But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) already have been teaming up. Schwarzenegger has been taking McClintock with him to fundraisers and offering him access to deep-pocket contributors. In return, McClintock has been trying to provide the centrist governor with some credibility among conservatives, who regard the senator as their straight-talking hero.
McClintock has no major opposition for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination. Three candidates are competing for the Democratic nomination: Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, Sen. Liz Figueroa of Fremont and Sen. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough.
The Schwarzenegger-McClintock pairing seems remarkable because the two Republicans couldn't be more opposite, personally and philosophically.
McClintock, 49, is a trim, 6-foot-1 bookworm who loves to quote the Federalist Papers. He's an articulate writer (mostly opinion pieces) and orator who won't try to fuzz up an issue. And, unlike Schwarzenegger, he's a career politician, first elected to the Legislature at age 26 as a "taxpayer advocate."
Schwarzenegger takes credit for cutting the car tax, but it was McClintock who first made the steep levy a California issue in the late 1990s. He crusaded for its elimination, pressuring Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature to gradually reduce the tax. When Gov. Gray Davis ran out of money to balance the budget, he restored the tax to its high level, was smacked by Schwarzenegger and recalled.
So McClintock's influence on California politics has been felt, despite his being a maverick who doesn't always play ball in a party relegated to the legislative minority.
"My role has always been to move the debate," he says.
There's plenty for McClintock to debate with Schwarzenegger -- especially borrowing.
This won't be like a presidential ticket, with the running mate parroting every word of the presidential candidate.
"I'll be among his strongest supporters when we agree and a voice of disagreement when we don't," McClintock says. "And there are disagreements, clearly."
McClintock adamantly opposed Schwarzenegger's $15-billion budget-balancing bond in 2004. And he argued against the governor's $68-billion infrastructure bond package that recently failed to pass the Legislature.
The guy is nothing but consistent. Both at a Republican state convention last month, where he was pitching the governor to conservatives, and in a Senate floor debate March 10, when railing against Schwarzenegger-style borrowing, McClintock used virtually the same words:
"Despite record levels of borrowing, we have nothing to show for it. And despite record levels of spending, we can't even scrape together enough money to build a decent road system, or educate our kids, or protect our families from predators."
He says that "bonds should only be used for projects that will be around a generation from now when our children are still paying off the debt.... Our generation has squandered long-term bonds to pay for day-to-day operating expenses.... Our children are going to have their own potholes to fill."
Further, he adds, "state bonds should be used only for projects that benefit the entire state" -- and not provide pork for local parks, as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is advocating.
So far, Schwarzenegger's strategists don't mind McClintock's independence and candor. It keeps the senator credible and interesting, they say, and helps broaden the governor's base.
"There's a McCain effect about him," says Rob Stutzman, a former Schwarzenegger advisor who's now a private consultant. "He's the honest politician people always are looking for.
"I have an unproven theory: In a race like lieutenant governor, where the public's hip to the fact that the job doesn't do anything, there's a real potential for people who don't agree with Tom's ideology -- like on abortion -- to give an honest politician their vote."
McClintock opposes abortion rights and most gun control, but seldom talks about either.
Stutzman's theory is challenged by Republican Tony Quinn, editor of the Target Book, which analyzes political races.
"I'll believe McClintock can get elected statewide in California when you convince me Teddy Kennedy can get elected in Texas," Quinn says. "He speaks his mind. So does Ted Kennedy.
"McClintock has a chance to get elected if Arnold wins big and Democrats totally collapse."
McClintock ran twice for state controller, in 1994 and 2002, and lost narrowly each time. He made his biggest splash running for governor in the 2003 recall, garnering just 13.5% of the vote but earning kudos for knowledge and frankness.
It's still seven months until November. By then, Schwarzenegger and McClintock may not even be speaking. That would be the norm for California.
Regardless, lieutenant governor is shaping up as one of the most intriguing state races this year. And the winner will be an instant candidate for governor.