Robert Novak

Those eleventh hour attacks cannot be laid at the door of the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times as Democratic leaders now seek to do. As soon as petitions for the recall were distributed, Democratic operatives were whispering to me about bundles of dirty linen in Arnold's closest. Everybody knew what Bob Mulholland, the poison-tongued state Democratic Party spokesman, was talking about when he predicted that Schwarzenegger would be facing "real bullets" in the campaign.

Apart from mourning the loss of the governor's office, Democrats have to consider the angry, bitter and ultimately failed campaign. Predictably, Davis in the last week was calling for criminal prosecution of Schwarzenegger based on mainly anonymous accusations of sexual misbehavior on which the one-year statute of limitations had expired. The bitter posturing of State Democratic Chairman Art Torres was sickening to many loyal Democrats.

Leading up to Tuesday's balloting, the California Democrats looked like an over-confident majority. Ending up with the feckless Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as the only alternative to Davis and Schwarzenegger was an illustration of politics by the absent-minded. Sacramento lobbyist Ritchie Ross, running Bustamante's campaign, sunk his candidate's chances when millions were accepted from Indian tribal gambling interests.

During a California reporting trip in June, I became convinced that Davis would not survive the recall. After a second visit last month, I felt Schwarzenegger would win even with conservative State Sen. Tom McClintock making it a three-way race. Pro-Arnold emotion shown at the state Republican convention Sept. 12-13 indicated that the party faithful wanted a victory more than ideological purity. For once in California, the Republicans were the pragmatists.

All this happened with the political establishment -- including the Bush White House -- as an uneasy bystander. The instruments of direct citizen participation that were devised early in the 20th century by such progressives as California's Hiram Johnson always have been hated by the professional politicians. The passage of Proposition 13 property tax reduction in the state in 1978 and the recall of Gray Davis worked just as Johnson envisioned. The benefits that may be bestowed on the Republican Party constitute a major side effect.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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