Washington California's stunning recall of Gov. Gray Davis and election of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger could be a leading indicator of voter anger over the economy, sentiments that could substantially shape elections in 2004 and make for nervous times for incumbents.
While many Republicans cheered the fact that the GOP now will control the governor's office in California, New York and Florida, that good feeling was leavened by the fact that voters in California had thrown over an incumbent as punishment for a bad economy -- an issue President Bush likely will have to confront in his re-election bid next year.
Though California's vote frames the issue of the economy in stark political terms, several analysts agreed that it did not signal the start of a wave of recalls of other high-ranking elected officials in other states.
How much the issue of economic discontent affects Bush's electoral fortunes, of course, hinges greatly on whether the economy recovers strongly and whether the Democrats can produce a nominee who can be personally compelling in ways that, in part, mirror Schwarzenegger's appeal.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has tapped into that anger in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination by securing volunteers and, more important, millions of dollars in campaign contributions. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a newcomer to the Democratic race, seems to be capitalizing on that same kind of energy.
So it was not surprising that Dean, in a statement, cast the recall in broader terms than simply Davis and Schwarzenegger.
"Today's recall election in California was not about Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger," Dean said. "This recall was about the frustration so many people are feeling about the way things are going. All across America, George Bush's massive tax cuts for the wealthy are undermining state budgets, causing cutbacks in services and increases in local property taxes. Come next November, that anger might be directed at a different incumbent in the White House."
In one recent Pew Research Center survey, voters were as gloomy about the economy as they were in 1991, a climate that gave rise to the independent candidacy of Ross Perot and led ultimately to voters denying former President George Bush a second term.
"I think it means that people are upset with incumbents generally," said David Leland, national director of Project Vote, a nonpartisan voter registration and mobilization group. "They are not happy in the way that the state and nation are moving in several different directions. And the only thing that is saving incumbents in many states is the lack of a recall mechanism. Everybody's in a pretty foul mood right now and they are going to take it out on incumbents."