Conservatives stick with Schwarzenegger

Gelia Crayton is the picture of conservative California. She worships at the Crystal Cathedral, Orange County's gleaming megachurch. She opposes abortion and gay marriage.
( [email protected] ) Oct 04, 2006 12:32 PM EDT

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. - Gelia Crayton is the picture of conservative California. She worships at the Crystal Cathedral, Orange County's gleaming megachurch. She opposes abortion and gay marriage. And she thinks illegal immigration is the scourge of the state.

Crayton's views are at odds with the moderate stance Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promoted as he seeks re-election.

Yet on a recent Sunday after church services, the 58-year-old real estate agent pledged to stay loyal to the governor "until he says, 'Taxes are going to go up and welcome illegals.'"

Crayton's pragmatism helps explain how Schwarzenegger has consolidated his party's support this year, even as he has flouted many of its core beliefs.

He has angered social conservatives by hiring a lesbian Democrat as his chief of staff and signing a number of bills related to gay rights, including one that will let registered domestic partners file joint state income tax returns.

He also has upset fiscal conservatives by working with legislators to put the biggest bond package in California history — $37.3 billion — on the November ballot. And he crossed the business lobby by agreeing to raise the minimum wage, force prescription drug companies to offer discounts and cap greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite all this, 82 percent of likely Republican voters in the state said they will vote for Schwarzenegger in November, according to a poll released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California.

That survey and a Field Poll also released last week showed him with a double-digit lead over his Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Phil Angelides. One had Schwarzenegger 17 points ahead, the other 10 points.

In truth, Republican voters have nowhere else to go; no major Republican candidate has come forward to challenge Schwarzenegger from the right. Of course, GOP conservatives could stay home on Election Day. But Schwarzenegger has sought to counter that by portraying Angelides as a tax-and-spend liberal.

Those tactics may be working.

Crayton's fiance, real estate investor Ken Sheppard, for example, has been angry at some of the things the governor has done this year, particularly his reluctance to comply with President Bush's request to send National Guard troops to the border with Mexico. But Sheppard said he is supporting Schwarzenegger — and working phone banks for the GOP ticket — for fear of the Democratic alternative.

"If the other side were going to win, we would be hit with higher taxes for years and years and years," he said. "It's not like voting for Arnold. It's voting against Angelides."

Schwarzenegger's move toward the political middle may be a political necessity in California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 1.3 million voters. Some Republicans seem to realize that, and are willing to give Schwarzenegger a pass.

Crayton said she believes Schwarzenegger, who supports abortion rights, is "playing politics" on abortion, and she wishes he were tougher on immigration. But she rationalizes his actions as necessary to cope with the pressure he gets at home.

"He's got certain concessions he's got to make because he's got a family life, too," she said, referring to Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, a Democrat and a member of the Kennedy clan.

Her friend Ruth Daugherty, who also worships at the Crystal Cathedral, excused the governor's moderate stand on immigration — and even his reluctance to send the National Guard to the border — as a concession to political reality in a state where Democrats dominate.

"I think he's doing the best he can," said Daugherty, 73, a retired banker who lives in Irvine, "because he can't be as vocal about it as we are and get elected."

To be sure, Schwarzenegger has been attacked from the right, particularly on immigration.

"He's not a Republican and you know that," KFI talk radio host John Ziegler told Schwarzenegger's campaign manager recently. "Because you know a real Republican can't win statewide, so you and Maria have orchestrated this move to the left. Congratulations, but don't deny it. Take credit for it."

Still, while many voters are angry about illegal immigration, many do not blame the governor.

"It's not Arnold's fault," said Ken Mummert, 66, who was eating lunch at Costco in the Riverside County town of Temecula. "Immigration's been a problem that's been going on a long time."