We’re not sure what possessed Steve Poizner to put on his web site a digital running total that publicly tracks his ballyhooed effort to raise $50K in December – without having at least two-thirds of the amount committed and ready to post, to feed the perception of momentum.
Whatever it was, however, we’re pretty sure it was just about the worst idea since the Edsel.
One look at Poizner’s version of the Jerry’s Kids telethon thermometer Monday – when it stood at a pathetically droopy $12,885 – - is all you need to know about why The Commish suddenly announced he would go to the wallet for $15 million of his own fortune to sustain his lagging campaign for governor.
“He didn’t have any other option,” said one Republican insider. “There were rumors all over Sacramento that he was going to drop out.”
Poizner’s $15 million move will likely stop the bleeding among the gossip-mongering cognoscenti (which he’s done for the moment, at least to judge by campaign flack Jarrod Agen’s success in getting the entire press corps to write exactly the same story Monday). It also may calm some of his current supporters, whose restiveness in the face of his failure to move the needle in the polls seems to have led to the we-got-her-right-where-we-want-her memo his campaign e-blasted last week, which smacked of desperation.
Having made his move, Poizner now faces two other, far more difficult tasks: a) actually writing the check he’s promised (we’ll be watching) and b) figuring out how to spend the dough wisely. We’re also not convinced that $15 million is enough to make the kind of splash – positive, negative or both – he needs.
As we noted last week in our six-months-out-from-the-primary analysis, which said flatly that Poizner needed to fork out some serious cash soon, Whitman’s scorched earth strategy of spending Whatever It Takes means it’ll cost Single Digits Steve big bucks just to get even with the name ID she’s already bought, let alone cruise by her.
With Her Megness trouncing The Commish in early opinion surveys, his campaign will surely be tempted to go negative on her out of the box, in an effort to stop her momentum.
This would be an unforced error, in our view, since the only people in California who have any idea who he is right now are the disheveled hordes who read Calbuzz, and he doesn’t want the first thing they learn about him to be that he beats up girls; beyond that, eMeg’s low-profile but expensive radio campaign has laid down a pretty good ground cover defense against a sudden air attack.
On the other hand, putting a couple million bucks behind positive spots, based on his recent “Back from the Brink” bio web ad (slight digression: Who thought that was a swell title? Not a few political junkies assumed he was talking about his campaign, not the state of California) is the safe and conventional play, but it remains to be seen whether the centerpiece of Poizner’s campaign, his ”bold” 10-10-10 budget proposal, has enough juice to give him some movement.
Certainly, the specificity of his tax cut plan gives him one potentially sharp contrast with eMeg, who has said the state’s current tax structure doesn’t need remaking. He’s also likely to compare her broad brush plan to can 40,000 state employees unfavorably with his more detailed proposed for a 10 percent spending cut.
One potential game changer in the GOP race, of course, would be Tom Campbell abandoning his bid for governor to jump into the Republican primary race for Senate.
Campbell spokesman James Fisfis confirmed to Chris Cillizza of the WashPost that Tom Terrific has been approached to make the switch. It makes sense in a lot of ways: Campbell by nature is more of the legislative than executive type and, even though he’d still face an uphill battle raising money against Carly Fiorina, it would be an easier slog than trying to make his way in the Daddy/Mommy Warbucks primary against eMeg and The Commish.
We talked to Campbell about the rumors Monday and, for the first time in his life, he was tight lipped:
“I am in the race for governor. I have nothing to add to that.”
Try as we might to twist ourselves into contortions to get more out of him – i.e. “When you return from your holiday vacation (he and his wife are headed to Panama to study intensive Spanish – honest, you could look it up) will you still be a candidate for governor?
“I am in the race for governor, and I’m not really going to add to that.”
Which smells suspiciously like he’s seriously looking at it. If he goes, about one-quarter of the GOP vote, which is where he’s been polling, is suddenly up for grabs.
On the natural, that would seem to benefit Poizner, just because he would gain from anything that shakes up the race, and he comes closer to Campbell’s egghead appeal. But as Poizner tacks hard right, Campbell’s politics are closer to Whitman’s, so she’d likely at least a split his vote.
For months, Poizner has been trashing Whitman for spending millions of her own money on the race, charging that she thinks the election “is an eBay auction.” Now, he’s finally made his own bid, and the key question is, will it prove too little, too late.