After weeks of subtle jabs at fellow Republicans in Congress and the White House, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger turned more blunt Tuesday in a tart letter to President Bush. Chiding the president for ignoring his plea for more leeway to toughen California's vehicle exhaust standards, Schwarzenegger complained about "the absence of a coherent federal policy" to stop global warming.
At the same time, Schwarzenegger's Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, dismissed the governor's detachment from Bush as a ruse. "Look, the Republicans are going down in this election, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is going with them, because he is part of the same team and has the same agenda," Angelides said Tuesday after a Bay Area speech to a raucous union crowd.
With the California election two weeks away, the back-and-forth captured the contrasting approaches that Schwarzenegger and Angelides are taking in the final stretch.
At tightly staged events this week in San Diego, Glendale and Oakland, Schwarzenegger has all but severed his Republican ties while playing up the value of bipartisan harmony.
He has also taken pains to widen his appeal beyond white Republican men, his most loyal supporters. At every stop, Schwarzenegger has surrounded himself with African Americans or Latinos and stuck to themes that resonate with Democrats, independents and women: the environment and education.
"They need money to refurbish this building here," Schwarzenegger said Tuesday as he toured an Oakland school to promote education bonds on the Nov. 7 ballot. "I mean, this is an old, old building, and I think that those children deserve better than that."
For his part, Angelides has raced around the state making partisan appeals to Democrats this week in an effort to maximize any boost he might get from his party's national surge in the run-up to the midterm election.
Corporate big shots are "doing better and better," but the middle class is "struggling under George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger," Angelides told union shop stewards at a labor conference near Oakland.
At a Pasadena picnic with 200 supporters Sunday, Angelides called Schwarzenegger a "Republican thoroughbred" pretending to be a Democrat. "In the closing days of this campaign, you won't find Arnold Schwarzenegger within 100 feet of another Republican," he said.
In what has become a rare nod to a conservative base that he once tended to assiduously, Schwarzenegger plans to appear Friday on "Hannity & Colmes," a Fox News television show to be taped on the Midway, the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum.
But that is an exception. For months, the governor has kept a distance from his party, a move seen as a strategic necessity in a state where just a little more than a third of registered voters are Republican. He has avoided public events with other GOP candidates and refused to endorse the party's staunchly conservative U.S. Senate nominee, former state Sen. Dick Mountjoy of Monrovia. And in an interview last week, Schwarzenegger sidestepped the question of how much he cares whether Republicans win other statewide races.
"To be honest with you, my focus right now is on really moving the state of California forward," he said, "and for me to get in there so I can finish all of what I envision for the future of California to be. And if this has a positive effect on the down-ticket, that's great."
As he campaigned Sunday in San Diego at black churches — a historic proving ground for Democrats — Schwarzenegger also dodged the question of whether he wants Republicans to keep control of Congress.
"I think that's a choice that the people have to make," he said. Pressed to state his own view, he said, "I myself will look at the list when I vote for my congressional delegation," and went on to praise members of both major parties.
At Faith Chapel Church of God in Christ, Schwarzenegger took another swipe at Bush and Republican congressional leaders during a doughnuts-and-orange-juice talk with children after a morning service with gospel music. He told them of steps he had taken to fight global warming and cut reliance on Mideast oil by promoting alternative energy, saying, "The sad story is that nationally, we don't have great leadership on that."
His letter to Bush, which was released Tuesday, made that case in surprisingly brusque terms. The state's request for a federal waiver to set vehicle emissions standards has been "ignored with no explanation," Schwarzenegger wrote, despite a personal letter from the governor to Bush in April.
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment directly on the letter, but said Bush had "an aggressive climate change strategy to reduce greenhouse gas intensity 18% by 2012."
The letter followed accusations by Democrats who lead the Legislature that Schwarzenegger took several steps in an executive order last week to undercut the state's new law capping greenhouse gas emissions.
Through it all, the governor has rarely uttered a word about his rival, letting his television ads portray Angelides as a tax-and-spend politician of a bygone era.
As for Angelides, he has begun keeping a frenetic pace of public events to draw local media coverage to try to help compensate for his more modest TV ad presence. He has campaigned this week in Hollywood, Arcadia, Baldwin Park, Pasadena, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, Hayward and San Francisco.