California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s declaration of a Nov. 8 special election is apparently not doing him any good with voters. In a poll taken after his June 13 announcement, the governor’s approval ratings plunged to new lows. The Field Poll found a mere 31 percent of California adults and 37 percent of registered voters approve of Schwarzenegger’s job performance. Support among Republicans is now 66 percent, down from 84 percent three months ago. Most important: backing of nonpartisan voters has sunk to 35 percent from 48 percent in February.

When its $45 to $80 million cost to taxpayers is cited, support for the special election stands at 28 percent.

Perhaps in response to the bad news, Schwarzenegger veered last week from his focus on the evils of deficit spending to allege that Democrats are seeking to weaken Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot measure limiting property tax increases, and to raise car and sales taxes. But observers noted that the absence of such measures in the Democrats’ budget proposal raised the specter of a credibility gap.

Besides the estimated cost of the special election to taxpayers, estimates of total donor funds to be spent by all sides go as high as $200 million. Unions have raised over $8 million to date. The California Teachers Association just approved a temporary $60 dues hike to raise a total of $50 million for political activity over three years, and the union representing corrections officers is expected to follow suit.

Pharmaceutical firms have raised over $10 million to oppose a discount program for 10 million low- and middle-income Californians that would require drug companies to participate if they wish to sell drugs to the Medi-Cal program. They are campaigning for their own much weaker “voluntary” discount program.

While relentlessly repeating that California nurses, teachers and other public workers are “special interests,” the governor has traveled the country raising $15 million so far — largely from wealthy individual and corporate donors. This week the Los Angeles Times revealed that a nursing home company owned by Emmanuel Bernabe, who has given Schwarzenegger over $67,000, faces a 13-count neglect complaint. Though state regulators have cited 11 of Bernabe’s nursing homes over 51 times since Schwarzenegger took office, and levied fines of nearly $300,000, the governor’s office claimed to be unaware of Bernabe’s difficulties.