Despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s efforts to reinvent himself as a moderate, California’s voters are only slightly more inclined to re-elect him than they were on the eve of his historic drubbing in the November 2005 special election, according to a Field Poll released last week. And his trip last week to the Arnold Expo and Classic bodybuilding event in Columbus, Ohio, including a featured appearance at a “gladiator” ultimate fighting match, has triggered renewed criticism of his continuing ties to body-building and allied activities.

Currently just 37 percent of likely voters would return the governor to office in November, the Field Poll said, compared to 36 percent last October and 56 percent a year ago. However, the proportion of undecided voters has risen significantly.

A key element in Schwarzenegger’s effort to gain renewed support is the $222 billion, 10-year infrastructure proposal he unveiled in his January State of the State message. A separate Field Poll, also released last week, showed 56 percent support for the overall proposal, which includes $68 billion in new borrowing voters must approve.

But those polled showed a keen ability to differentiate among the plan’s various components, with around three-quarters backing highways, schools and flood control projects but about half opposed to building new prisons or renovating courthouses.

Most significantly, substantial majorities favored areas Schwarzenegger didn’t even include, such as making hospitals earthquake-resistant, building affordable housing and funding park expansion. Over two-thirds said the governor’s plan didn’t have enough for public transit.

The governor’s trip to Ohio for the Arnold Classic brought echoes of the criticism that last year caused him to publicly renounce the $5-million-plus contract he had held with two body-building magazines. Speaking of the “gladiator” match, Democratic Party activist Gloria Nieto told the San Francisco Chronicle, “What a photo op — to have Arnold with some bloody competitors who have just beaten each other up for entertainment. That’s exactly the image we need for California.”

Perhaps more serious for the governor, however, is the lingering discontent among Republicans. Despite efforts at last month’s state Republican Party convention to paper over differences, only 65 percent of likely Republican voters currently back Schwarzenegger’s re-election. At the convention the governor’s supporters managed to beat back efforts to deny him the party’s endorsement and to pass resolutions opposing his bond-issue and minimum wage proposals. Lieutenant governor candidate Tom McClintock, a far-right state senator from southern California and Schwarzenegger’s most significant Republican rival, gave a rousing pro-Schwarzenegger speech.

But the California Chamber of Commerce, which last year wholeheartedly supported the governor’s agenda, said this week it is upset by the potential economic burden posed by Schwarzenegger’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

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