Eli Stephens elishastephens at
Tue Jul 29 12:16:31 MDT 2003

>From Very interesting for what it says about Peter Camejo
(directly contradicting what Camejo's campaign manager wrote just
yesterday), Arianna herself (she calls herself a progressive but would drop
out of the race if reactionary Dianne Feinstein runs), other progressive
activists (like Julia Butterfly Hill), and more.

Brentwood bombshell
At a meeting of Hollywood and progressive supporters in her West L.A. home,
Arianna Huffington gets ready to run for governor. Her goal: take Sacramento
and shake Washington.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By David Talbot

July 29, 2003 Ê|Ê BRENTWOOD, Calif. -- It's not official yet, but she's off
and running. That was the message at Arianna Huffington's home in posh
Brentwood, Calif., on Sunday afternoon, where several dozen political
activists and advisors gathered to hear the author and Salon columnist make
her case for jumping into the race to recall California Gov. Gray Davis. The
only thing that would keep Huffington out of what is shaping up as an
electoral free-for-all would be the sudden entry of a major Democratic rival
to Davis -- and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the only likely such 800-pound
gorilla, is still rejecting entreaties to rescue the party from the rapidly
melting Davis.

"If Feinstein runs, I won't," Huffington told the Sunday gathering. "This
campaign is to win, not to be a spoiler and hand the state over to the

This is the burning question for California progressives as they contemplate
a Huffington run: Will it wind up as a horrible replay of November 2000,
with the populist columnist cast in the Ralph Nader role, handing a crucial
victory to the GOP? Bill Zimmerman, the veteran California campaign
strategist who has agreed to manage Huffington's race, says no. Zimmerman
points out that under the rules of the Oct. 7 recall election, voters can
cast their ballot against the recall initiative and still vote for an
alternative to Davis on the same ballot in case the recall wins. If Davis,
whose approval rating languishes around 20 percent, continues to fade in the
polls -- and a new internal poll by the California teachers union reportedly
shows him sinking fast, with a recall winning by a 57-43 margin -- it would
be "irresponsible not to have a progressive alternative on the ballot,"
Huffington said on Sunday.

With her high media profile and access to money, Huffington's backers say
she's the only progressive candidate who could mount a challenge to
big-spending Republicans. If Arnold Schwarzenegger decides to take a
starring role in the race -- and on Monday he denied reports that he was
out, although his camp apparently told one national newspaper he was
"leaning strongly against" running -- he would likely crush any lightweight
rivals in his path. Huffington, who would run as an independent, might be
the only candidate who could stand between him and the governor's mansion,
her supporters argue.

Standing in her living room, next to a piano with framed photos of her two
daughters and celebrity friends like Bill Maher, who has made her a regular
on his TV shows, Huffington hit all the progressive chords at the Sunday
meeting. She vowed to "nationalize" the campaign, turning it into a
referendum not just on Davis' governorship but on the Bush presidency and
the corporate looting of the state and nation.

"If, as [Republican challenger] Bill Simon says, Gray Davis is fiscally
irresponsible, then George Bush is fiscally insane," she told the group. One
of Davis' chief mistakes, Huffington argues, was his failure to explain to
California voters why the Bush White House -- and its old friends at Enron
and the energy industry -- are largely responsible for the state's budget
woes. Huffington, whose recent bestseller "Pigs at the Trough" savages the
reign of greed, corruption and environmental plunder under Bush, said she
can't wait to take on the president's buddy Schwarzenegger. "It will be 'the
hybrid vs. the Hummer,'" said the near-candidate, who launched a media
campaign last year against gas-guzzling SUVs.

"I want to build a progressive coalition that transcends this campaign,"
Huffington said, "not just to make sure we beat Bush in California next
year, but to provide a template for how other states can beat him too. We've
all seen a lot of waves break on the beach and not amount to anything. But a
campaign that energizes people creates the possibility of a tidal wave."

Many of those crowded into Huffington's living room were clearly ready to be
swept up into something big. Among those gathered were friends and relatives
with Greek accents every bit as thick as Huffington's (she is the daughter
of a Greek newspaper publisher), environmentalists, drug policy reformers,
civil rights activists, antiwar veterans and Hollywood money-tree shakers.
Holding a copy of Joseph Palermo's book on Bobby Kennedy's political
evolution, "In His Own Right," which contains a chapter on Kennedy's 1968
California primary campaign, Huffington invoked that legendary race, which
still has a sacred meaning for the state's baby boomers. "Bobby was also
attacked as a party splitter by the LBJ wing," she observed. "But he won the
primary by linking progressive groups like the farmworkers with Hollywood

Hollywood was well represented at the Sunday gathering, with Barbra
Streisand's political consigliere, Marge Tabankin; Norman Lear aide Lara
Bergthold; documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler ("The War Room"), who is now
producing a political reality TV show for Fox that will allow viewers to
pick their favorite presidential fresh face; and producer Julie Bergman
("The Fabulous Baker Boys," "Washington Square"), among others. Warren
Beatty has also been offering Huffington advice.

But even Huffington cannot count on wresting Hollywood away from Davis.
Indeed, some of the entertainment industry friends she gathered in her home
Sunday expressed concerns about her deflecting energy from the effort to
beat the recall, which one characterized as "little different than a Third
World coup engineered by Republicans." The national Democratic Party is
promising a big campaign to support Davis, with a dream team of political
stars, including both Clintons, dispatched to make the case that the recall
is just a replay of impeachment and the Florida debacle -- the sore-loser
ploy of Republicans who play nasty when they can't win elections fair and

And some friends at the Sunday gathering worried about Huffington herself,
and whether her stature as a political commentator would be diminished if
she ran a losing race in which she will surely be ridiculed by the media as
well as by her political opponents. One Republican strategist told Salon
last week: "We've talked about Huffington more as a joke than anything else.
With Arnold and Arianna, nobody would understand what either of them is

Nor is it certain Huffington can move beyond her glittery base. Two veteran
Latino activists, Joe Benitez and Joe Sanchez, attended the meeting, and
both of them told Huffington she had no chance of winning unless she built a
following in the state's Latino and black communities. Van Jones, an
African-American activist from San Francisco who has led a "Books Not Bars"
campaign to shift state funds from prisons to schools, kicked off the draft
Huffington movement with a new Web site and has signed on to run her
grass-roots campaign. Environmentalist Julia Butterfly Hill, the young woman
who protected an ancient California redwood from loggers by refusing to move
from its limbs, also attended Sunday's meeting. She told Huffington that she
was inspired by her "creativity and humor," reminding the group that "we
need to put the party back in party politics" as well as widen the political
dialogue beyond "how many bombs should we drop and how many people should we
throw in prison."

Huffington told the gathering that she has also won key Green Party support,
with Peter Camejo, the party's recall candidate, agreeing to drop out and
back her after she announces. "He told me that now is the time for the Green
Party to be part of a winning campaign to change the political structure."
Camejo won 5 percent of the vote running against Davis last year, and with
some analysts predicting the next governor could be elected with a mere 20
percent of the vote, that's a significant base for Huffington.

Asked about her standing with gays, Huffington quipped, "My husband is
[gay]," to a burst of laughter from the group. Adding to the carnival
aspects of what the national media, always eager to lampoon California, is
already billing as the political freak show of the year, was the
announcement by Huffington's ex, Michael, that he too was seriously
considering throwing his hat in the ring. A former Republican congressman
turned Hollywood producer, Michael Huffington spent a record $30 million of
his oil fortune in a losing 1994 Senate race against Feinstein, before
divorcing Arianna and announcing he was gay. Huffington, who lives just a
few blocks from Arianna in Brentwood, claimed that his decision to take out
filing papers on Friday had nothing to do with his ex-wife's plans. But
their 12-year-old daughter reacted negatively, said Arianna with a laugh on
Sunday: "She told him, 'Don't run, Daddy, you have no base.'"

Huffington said she was not concerned about her ex's possible challenge,
which Republican strategist Dan Schnur is already gleefully billing as
"Michael and Arianna -- the hit new reality show of the fall." At the least,
said Huffington, it will assure those progressive voters who remain
skeptical about her political evolution that she has genuinely changed her
views since her married days: "It will make clear the two Huffingtons are
not on the same side of anything."

Zimmerman estimates that Huffington's race, a two-month burst to the Oct. 7
finish line, will cost about $10 million to compete effectively in the
state's vast media market. Much of this, he predicts, can be raised on the
Internet, in the manner pioneered by groups like, with whom he
has worked. Zimmerman told the Sunday gathering that one progressive group
he worked with made a whopping $220,000 in three hours after putting its
commercial on the Web. "But this campaign will be won primarily with
passion, not money," he said. "If Arianna succeeds, you'll see a
transformation of California's politics on the order of what Hiram Johnson
accomplished when he was elected governor in 1910, driving the Southern
Pacific railroad lobby from the halls of the Capitol and turning California
into a beacon of progressivism for years."

Huffington told the group she will announce her final decision sometime next
week, before the Aug. 9 filing date. "I want to wait just a few days to see
if any political reasons emerge for me not to run" (read: a last-minute
entry by Feinstein). But she has clearly girded herself for the rigors of a
campaign. "I've always been a risk-taker, except with investments," she told
the Sunday gathering. "I'm very comfortable with uncertainty."

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