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Abel Maldonado and a Firestorm of Benefits

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Benefits of Being No. 2

AP

California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, left, listens as officials describe destruction following a gas explosion during a news conference in San Bruno, Calif., Friday, Sept. 10, 2010. Fire crews sprayed water on smoldering homes Friday morning after a massive explosion apparently triggered by a broken gas line sent flames roaring through a neighborhood near San Francisco, killing at least six people and injuring dozens, officials said.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

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San Bruno's recent disaster from a PG&E gas line explosion has been a boon for Abel Maldonado, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. At the time, Maldonado was Acting Governor in the absence of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was on a trade mission in Asia.

As such, he had the job (and opportunity) to oversee management of the crisis in San Bruno. 

Day after day for the better part of a week Maldonado was on the scene, meeting with local officials, reassuring families, and conducting interviews with the media that were broadcast throughout the state and nation. Simply put, Maldonado looked like he was in charge.  It was the kind of positive publicity that candidates pray for, and by sheer happenstance Maldonado's prayers were answered.

Ironically, With few official responsibilities, the lieutenant governor's office typically draws little attention from the press and public. Constitutionally, he is acting governor when the governor is out of the state--something that almost always passes with little fanfare.

But the San Bruno explosion gave Maldonado the unpredictable opening to show himself in a governing style--a leader at work for the people. Wearing a jacket with the state emblem, he seemed to embody Schwarzenegger's famous battle cry of "action, action, action." People saw him doing things, trying to make a terrible situation better. And there was nothing Democratic opponent Gavin Newsom could do about it.

This was a case when crisis management provided a currency much more valuable than the flow of campaign contributions, and Maldonado cashed in. From this, he can expect a big bump in the polls. And who knows, an unanticipated and certainly unscripted event may make the difference in the outcome of an election.    

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