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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Fight looms over Schwarzenegger plans
A special election has been called in California for 8 November by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is frustrated with having to compromise with the state's Democratic legislature.

The poll will give Californians the chance to vote on specific policy measures, running from giving the governor more control of the state budget to curtailing the power of trade unions.

But his opponents see it as a move to shore up his falling popularity and are gearing up for a fight, reports the BBC's Ben Wright.

Muscle Beach in Venice, California, is where, among the bodybuilders, tattoo parlours and kitsch, Arnold Schwarzenegger began his remarkable American journey.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Schwarzenegger has called a referendum he could lose
From seven-times Mr Olympia to governor of California, probably the only person unsurprised by the story is Mr Schwarzenegger himself.

But he did it and he promised great things.

"I came here with absolutely nothing and California has given me absolutely everything," he said after winning the special recall election in October 2003 that catapulted him into the governor's office.

"We have tough choices ahead. The first choice that we must make is the one that will determine our success. Shall we rebuild our state together or shall we fight amongst ourselves, create even deeper division and fail the people of California?

"Well, let me tell you something, the answer is clear. For the people to win, politics as usual must lose."

'Tone deaf'

But almost two years later, the press, the public and his political opponents are lining up to declare his political honeymoon terminated.

On the streets, many Californians warn that Mr Schwarzenegger's image has been tarnished. Among his opponents is the California Teachers Association, which is busy raising funds to fight the November ballot.

Inclination to re-elect Schwarzenegger among registered voters
February 2005: 56%
June 2005: 39%
Source: The Field Poll
"The governor's not only attacked teachers but he's attacked the entire core of California," Barbara Kerr, the union's president, told BBC News.

"He's attacked firefighters, he's attacked police officers, teachers and state workers. We are the people that make this state run. So it's very pivotal - it's very important."

Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California in Berkeley, says "public sector unions are part of the problem".

But he agrees that "the way Arnold took them on was just completely tone deaf".

'Dragged to the right'

Many people are asking what has happened to the governor's apparently moderate stance.

"Conservatives and some of the consultants who were running the show, dragged him more to the right than I think anyone thought possible and it just hasn't worked for him," says Carla Marinucci, a political writer on the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

A demonstration against Schwarzenegger in Los Angeles on 25 May
Protesters say Schwarzenegger has broken public funding promises
Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, says: "Whatever advice they have been giving him has been tied to their economic prosperity as opposed to his political prosperity."

There has also been a change of tone in recent months, which has fired up Mr Schwarzenegger's opponents.

"He is really more like a classic schoolyard bully," said Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation. "He calls people names whenever someone disagrees with him."

Last December, Mr Schwarzenegger dismissed a group of protesting nurses by telling them they did not like him because he was always "kicking their butts". Earlier that year, he derided political opponents as "girlie men".

"So what do you do with a schoolyard bully?" asked Mr Pulaski.

"You stand up to him and you fight him back and sometimes you have to knock him down and that's what we're trying to do now."

'Change needed'

But the chair of the Californian Republican Party, Duf Sundheim, believes that appealing directly to the voters is a risk worth taking.

"The first year was to stop the car from going off the cliff. Now what he's saying is: 'We've stopped the bleeding, now we need to change direction,'" said Mr Sundheim.

Mr Schwarzenegger's new approach may not just be the result of what some see as bad advice. Playing to the Republican base worked for George Bush and some Californian Republicans hope that it is a strategy that could work here.

But it is a very risky move.

Opinions are divided among Californians watching a local sport, pig racing, at the gigantic Orange County fair, in a largely Republican part of the state.

"We love him," one man told me. "He's not a political insider. He's not part of the original system."

But a woman was less admiring.

"All my friends and I do is joke about him. We just think the whole thing is ridiculous and that he's not even doing a good job," she said.

Muscles flexed

November's special election is going to cost everybody involved a fortune and the stakes for Mr Schwarzenegger are high. The question is, will California - the most Democratic of states - buy into the new Schwarzenegger agenda?

I think we're going to see a fight here and it's going to be worthy of Hollywood
Carla Marinucci
Political writer, San Francisco Chronicle
Carla Marinucci believes that it is far too soon to write the governor off.

"He doesn't need politics but, boy, does he want politics - he wants to succeed," she said.

"He does not like failure. We know that from his movie career. Every time he's made a stinker, he's come back and made a blockbuster that's record-breaking.

"I think we're going to see a fight here and it's going to be worthy of Hollywood."

And on Muscle Beach one fan believes that Mr Schwarzenegger can still go all the way.

"I don't know what's going to happen with the constitution - if they're going to change it so that he can become president - but I can just imagine him at his inauguration. So we'll see what happens."

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