SACRAMENTO: The most striking result of California?s special election wasn?t that all of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?s propositions were defeated. Polls had been suggesting that for weeks.
What struck many observers was how quickly Schwarzenegger admitted the election was a mistake, speaking in conciliatory tones and extending an olive branch to the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
And if one lesson has been learned, it's that if you don't define yourself, your opponents will do it for you.
"He allowed the unions to define him," said Steve Telliano, SVP and GM of Edelman's Sacramento office. "All throughout the summer they defined him as a partisan. Voters did not see him as of the people."
And therein lies a warning to Democrats, no doubt feeling emboldened by the election -- if they think they can be more partisan going into next year's election, including a gubernatorial race, they will get hurt, said Telliano.
And Schwarzenegger has been wise to ask for forgiveness.
"Voters tend to be forgiving, when asked," he added. "The governor's team is wise to play into that as much as possible. He's really focusing on striking the middle ground."
In addition to that centrist, nonpartisan rhetoric, politicians are also going to talk about issues that voters actually care about, explained Cassandra Pye, SVP with APCO Worldwide in Sacramento.
"A lot of consultants are saying the [ballot measure proponents] didn't make much penetration with the voters, and one element they're looking at is communications," added Pye. "They just didn't get people interested."
Pye pointed to the recall election of former Gov. Gray Davis, which put Schwarzenegger into office. That election had high voter turnout because of issues and candidates that resonated with the public, along with strong media coverage.
This time, many of the issues ranged from the mundane to the arcane, and people just didn't tune in. And the governor's opponents, and the media, portrayed the election as a referendum on the governor, not about issues that impact voters' lives. And some feel that is why all of the ballot measures, not just those Schwarzenegger supported, were defeated.
"Everyone is going to go back to the drawing board, and think of more creative ways to communicate, and talk about what is important to voters, and what impacts their daily lives," said Pye.
Voters are still dissatisfied with the direction of California, and whoever is able to tap into that unrest, and how it impacts voters on a day-to-day basis, will be one step ahead.
"No one should get too comfortable," said Pye. "People aren't happy with the status quo."