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Schwarzenegger aide sees close re-election race

Written by: Staff
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SAN FRANCISCO, Mar 3 (Reuters) Muscleman-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, who swept to power 2 1/2 years ago as California governor, faces a tough fight winning re-election in November, according to a poll and an aide.

Difficulties in bringing big change to state government and disappointment over his combative partisan tone have hurt the former film star as he seeks a mandate for a second term.

Chief strategist Matthew Dowd gave a cautious assessment in a memo released on the day a new poll showed the Republican neck and neck in matchups against his two Democratic opponents.

''First, no matter the ups and downs of the poll numbers, this race will be very close,'' said Dowd, a former strategist for President George W Bush. ''While we have much work ahead of us, and still await an opponent, the governor is well-positioned in this very close race,'' he said yesterday.

Dowd's remarks reflect a more modest tone for Schwarzenegger, who throughout his life has relished vanquishing his opponents.

Elected in an unprecedented recall vote in 2003, Schwarzenegger will face either state Treasurer Phil Angelides or state Controller Steve Westly in the November election. Neither man is well-known outside the state capital, Sacramento, although both Democrats started heavy television advertising in key markets this week to boost their profiles.

In a Field Poll of 507 registered voters, Angelides and Schwarzenegger both garnered 39 percent in a head-to-head matchup, with 20 percent undecided. Facing Westly, a former eBay executive, Schwarzenegger trailed 41 percent to 37 percent. The poll was conducted February 12 to 26 and the sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

''This race is not, as the Democratic operatives and many pundits say, a referendum on Governor Schwarzenegger,'' Dowd said in his memo. ''Without an opponent, the current numbers only capture half the story.'' The former Mr Olympia and action film star has seen his popularity fall sharply over the past year after strong public backing at the start of his term in a state dominated by Democrats.

After failing to win public support for any of the initiatives he backed in a special election last November, Schwarzenegger has toned down his rhetoric in recent months and is seeking to rally support behind a package of record spending on the state's infrastructure.

REUTERS DH RAI0501

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