Fun with Numbers: Has eMeg Got Her $$’s Worth?


Three months before the November election, there appear to be three major beneficiaries of Meg Whitman’s over-the-top spending in her campaign for governor.

Unfortunately for the Republican nominee, none of them is her.

With new campaign finance statements scheduled to be filed this week, eMeg is expected to report somewhere north of $100 million in boodle disbursed to date, as the big winners in her extravagant spree are:

1-The vast legions of consultants, strategists, pollsters, flacks, purse carriers and other geniuses who have raked in tens of millions in fees, commissions, salaries and investments, in the greatest political bonanza since Bill Clinton auctioned off one-night stands in the Lincoln Bedroom..

2-The TV stations of California, which have been on the receiving end of Whitman’s own special economic stimulus program for nearly a year now. How’s this for a stat: Dan Morain noted in his Sunday SacBee column that she’s run 25,727 broadcast and cable ads since the primary alone. That’s not to mention Google and other online ad venues, where it’s all but  impossible to miss  that ubiquitous picture of Young Meg looking oddly forlorn for someone with that much loot in her future.

3-Carlos Alvarez and Dale Ogden, the Peace and Freedom and Libertarian candidates for governor, respectively, who each soared into the low single digits in the most recent PPIC poll, as Whitman drooped to her lowest level of support among likely voters in 2010.

In an interview the other day, her Democratic rival Jerry Brown said that eMeg has “wasted most of her money on unwise and ‘lavish’ spending,” according to our old friend Jim Boren at the Fresno Bee.

That’s easy for Krusty to say, even though his own poll numbers haven’t exactly taken flight; given that he’s spent a total of about 12 cents, it’s hard to argue with his point, if you overlay Whitman’s spending with some of her trend lines in the PPIC survey.

1-Among likely voters back in January, eMeg was backed by 36%, to Brown’s 41%; after inundating the airwaves for six months with the equivalent of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick’s GDP, the bottom line is that she lost two points of support, and now trails Brown 34-37%.

2-Among independent voters, Whitman’s investment has netted little.  In January, she trailed Brown among the crucial group of decline-to-state voters, who hold the balance of power in a statewide race,  28-36%; two months later, she’d surged, largely on the strength of a 14-point swing among independents, who then favored her over Brown, 43-37%. But after dominating the airwaves in the months since, she again trails among independents, 28-30%, according to the PPIC survey released last week.

3-Among female voters, who should represent a big opportunity for Whitman, the first Republican woman ever nominated for governor, there’s a stubborn gender gap. In January, she trailed Brown, 30-44%, among women; today, after going to the purse for $2 million a week, week after week, she’s behind 28-40%.

By far, Whitman’s strongest showing came in PPIC’s poll in March – before she unleashed the bulk of her advertising in her successful primary race against Steve Poizner. At that point, she led Brown 44-39% overall and, as noted above, ran ahead among independents; among women, she was within the margin of error.

But after that, all that bashing Poizner on the airwaves through the primary (while getting bashed by him to the tune of about $20 million) yielded was a 10-point shift in Brown’s favor; she trailed the AG shortly before the June 8 election by 37-42%. Now, after six weeks of incessant attacks against Brown, her level of support has eroded by another three points, though she’s also knocked him down by five.

As a practical matter, the Whitman campaign has yet to give voters a strong, positive reason to be for her, or even told them much about her, except a) she used to be the CEO of eBay; b) she’s not Steve Poizner or Jerry Brown; c) she thinks jobs and schools are really important; d) she believes illegal immigration is a terrible thing, except when she doesn’t; e) did we mention she used to be the CEO of eBay?

The Field Poll shows a trend line in the Whitman-Brown head-to-head matchup that’s more favorable to eMeg than the PPIC survey, but it nevertheless also suggests that the more people hear about her, the less they like her.

Back in January – when her image was still a relatively clean slate for voters – less than half of those surveyed had an opinion of her, but among those who did, it was positive 25-20%. Today, more than 80 percent have an opinion about her, but it’s negative – 42% unfavorable and 40% favorable.

Calbuzzards ain’t exactly masters of the universe when it comes to matters of high finance, but for such a smart businesswoman, that $100 million out the door seems to us, all in all, like kind of a mediocre investment.

Of course, the funds spent by Brown’s labor pals  — especially California Working Families — may not have done much to boost Krusty’s favorables, but they seem to have helped prevent Meg from developing much of a favorable image among swing voters, either.

All this helps explain why Team Meg recently launched a new charm offensive, trying to cozy up to Latinos  (a strategy undercut by widespread reporting about her prevarication on the issue, not to mention her own conflicting statements to news outlets) and with a new, positive 60-second radio ad (which once again focuses almost exclusively on her eBay experience).

Obviously, with three months to go, and uncounted millions to spend, there’s plenty of time and resources for Team eMeg to make some adjustments that offer a more effective criteria for her candidacy than they have to date.

But the closer it gets to Labor Day, when Brown intends to start putting his own ads on the air, the more difficult it becomes for her to exploit her greatest asset, the unprecedented edge she enjoys in money and, by likely extension, in campaign mechanics and organization as well.

The big piece that’s still missing from eMeg’s big-spending campaign is a compelling positive message, along with the answers to two, lingering key questions:  Why, exactly, does she want to be elected governor so badly that she’s willing to spend $100 million+ to do it? And why, exactly, is that a good deal for voters?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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There are 8 comments for this post

  1. avatar Bob Mulholland says:

    Whitman is a scared billionaire candidate who has no business sense. Most of her consultants see her no different than a New York cab driver picking up a first time tourist at the Kennedy Airport with cash in their hands. They’re taking her to the cleaners.

  2. avatar tonyseton says:

    The fact that she has spent so much money on tv over the summer shows (1) she bought the wrong consultants and (2) her learning curve during the primary was flat. It’s Brown’s to lose.

  3. Bob – I think you’re being unfair. New York cab drivers are MUCH more ethical than Whitman’s consultants. Plus, despite what you might pay, they at least get you to your destination. 🙂

  4. avatar BigCahuna says:

    Love the taxi metaphor, Cap Coast. Well done.

    To me, the Gov 2010 race seems to me to be a story of missed opportunities on both sides: (1) Whitman squandered her money … she could have spent her millions far, far more effectively, could have attacked Brown much more effectively than the repetition of an ill-fitting, tired “tax and spend liberal” line, and could have engaged with the public in a more genuine, meaningful way earlier in the campaign … among other missteps.

    (2) Brown squandered his time … during his uncontested primary, he could have nailed down all his policy proposals and a coherent vision for CA, built a more committed grassroots / GOTV organization, and better communicated his view of the issues that would decide election and defined himself and Whitman in easily understood terms.

    One wonders what a truly tight, effective campaign organization could have achieved in this election.

  5. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    This old Republican hand says the Calbuzz analysis and recommendation for the Whitman campaign is right on except for the wasted money line. On the latter, eMeg won over Poizner and his $20 million by better than 2 to 1 so that $60+ million was well planned and spent…not wasted.

    I suspect the ” compelling positive (eMeg) message” will bloom in gigantic showers of flowers this fall. I can see it now…the promise of California is greatness again for her and her people with eMeg at the helm of state. eMeg will personify the California shield of state and the “people will be happy again working and thriving” Yes! Ronald Reagan’s beautiful message using eMeg’s words.

  6. avatar tegrat says:

    Poizner never posed a credible threat to eMeg, so I don’t find the argument that spending 3X what he did to win an already won race very compelling. Her biggest problem is the more people know about her, the less they like her. The policies she espouses will further cripple California, just as the policies of RR initiated the destruction of the middle class which has been clearly demonstrated by actual data despite lovely adulatory rhetoric. The more people learn about the legacy of RR, the less they like him.

  7. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    One other big question, if I may. If Scharzenegger couldn’t make this platform work, what makes anybody think Whitman can? If there’s a difference between their promises, I haven’t noticed it.

    In the meantime, I’m just glad somebody’s spending money in California. The state needs the economic stimulus. If Ms. Whitman wants to provide it, I’m all for it–even it she doesn’t approve of the concept. And I’m sure she doesn’t.

  8. avatar SezMe says:

    Chis touches on what I think could be one of Brown’s most effective jabs. Namely, run a bunch of ads showing Arnie and Meg being two peas in a pod as far as promises and policies go. The tag line is “been there, done that” with the budget deficit and poll numbers floating in the background. Meg would be toast.

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