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Archive for 2010



Meyer’s Take: Brown vs. Brown for Governor

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Tom Meyer returns to Calbuzz today with his unique jaundiced view of how the celeb chic pol who first ran for governor in 1974 matches up against the decrepit wizened septuagenarian who’s hitting the trail for one more campaign in 2010.

How Poizner Could Still Win; Memo to Joe Mathews

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Over coffee and muffins last Saturday morning, Stuart Stevens, Steve Poizner’s media strategist, predicted to a handful of California political reporters that this week’s Field Poll would show his guy further behind Meg Whitman than ever.

And, Stevens quickly added to the incredulity of the journalists, it would prove ultimately and totally irrelevant, after Poizner confounds conventional wisdom and defeats eMeg in the June 8 Republican primary for governor.

“Once Steve Poizner goes on the air,” the lean and laconic Washington-based consultant said, “the entire issue is going to be:  how does she reduce her rate of loss?”

With eMeg now smashing Poizner 63-to-14, according to the Field survey released Wednesday, Stevens’s two-part prediction has proven to be at least half right. What remains to be seen is whether the claim that his client is poised to pull off one of the biggest upsets in California political history turns out to be more than spin and smoke-blowing.

The basic assumption underlying Team Poizner’s stated confidence aligns with the Calbuzz argument that 2010 is – first, last and only – a change election. With this as a point of departure, their insistence that The Commish has eMeg right where he wants her proceeds on three key arguments:

1-Whitman’s massive, early TV buy is Christmas advertising in August.

Poizner strategists believe that Whitman’s huge current lead is extremely soft, built on name identification that she has built over several months of being the only candidate on the air.

But, they argue, she has peaked too soon and once Republican primary voters learn more about her – with a major assist from Poizner comparative ads – that support will quickly erode and all the movement and momentum will be on their side. “Campaigns have internal rhythms that are unalterable,” said Stevens. “You don’t have to win many days to win an election.”

2-Poizner, not Whitman, has the right message.

With his emphasis on sweeping tax cuts, a hard line on illegal immigration and expressed opposition to public financing of abortion, Poizner has not only staked out the ideological conservative ground in the Republican primary, his handlers argue, but also positioned himself as the candidate who most dramatically represents change.

Stevens argued that while  Whitman’s message has been largely biographical – she is the former, successful head of eBay who will bring her business skills to bear in Sacramento – and aimed at establishing her as a political outsider, she has not advanced the argument to define herself as an agent of change.  “We like the idea that Meg has become the effective incumbent in this race,” said Stevens, “and the campaign will become a referendum on the incumbent.” (NB: this conversation took place before this week’s release of eMeg’s 48-page plan of policy proposals).

3-Poizner has the resources to deliver his message.

While Team Whitman has adapted the military doctrine of overwhelming force to surge to an unprecedented early lead – creating the unlikely perception that Poizner is the poor guy in the race who needs to put on bake sales to fund his campaign – he has at least $19 million available for TV advertising, an amount that would seem extraordinary in any other year.

To the Poizner camp, the fact that Whitman has spent a considerable amount of money attacking him is evidence of a lack of confidence among eMeg’s strategists that she has the election in the bag. And they scoff at the argument, made repeatedly during last weekend’s GOP convention, that the party should unite behind her because, as Mitt Romney put it, she “is the only Republican who can be elected governor of California.”

“As Jack Germond used to say,” Stevens told reporters over breakfast last weekend, “’Those who depend on winnability seldom do.’”

Say it ain’t so, Joe: Joe Mathews’s take on California politics and government is usually smart and well-reasoned, but the argument underpinning his recent ad hominem attack on Calbuzz over at Fox and Hounds is all but incoherent.

Mathews bashes us for leading the months-long charge that resulted in Whitman finally becoming accessible to the press corps, on the grounds that what she said when she finally spoke to reporters wasn’t very interesting.

Here’s a hint about covering politics from a couple of “aging” reporters, Joe: What politicians say matters.

Whether it’s mush or the sharpest and most specific policy prescriptions, the words and arguments they use in campaigns are important signifiers of how they’ll govern, and part of the job of being a political reporter is to present those words and arguments to voters so they can make the decision.

Here’s another hint: Put aside your oh-so-world-weary condescension to those voters, get up off your ass and do some actual reporting instead of just sucking on your thumb all the time.

Boxer Barely Beats Generic Reep; More on Meg’s $$

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Barbara Boxer is in trouble.

The Democratic U.S. senator’s favorable-unfavorable ratio has gone from 48-39% positive in January to 38-51% negative in March. That’s a net negative shift of 22 percentage points in three months — on the basis of virtually nothing except the mood of the nation and the state.

That’s part of today’s story from the Field Poll – which Calbuzz has only because some of our subscriber friends share it with us. (Field won’t let Calbuzz subscribe.)

In general election match-ups, Boxer leads Assemblyman Chuck DeVore 45-41% and splits with former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina 45-44%. Against former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell she’s behind within in the margin, 43-44%.

The survey might was well have asked, who would you rather have for a senator, Democrat Barbara Boxer or some random Republican?

But here’s what Boxer has to worry about: Her favorable-unfavorable among Democrats is 60-25% (luke warm); 11-84% among Republicans (as expected); but a nasty and uncomfortable 37-54% negative among non-partisans.

The Republican primary race – which has yet to see the effect of heavy-duty paid broadcast media for or against any candidate – is virtually unchanged from January. Campbell is at 28%, Fiorina is at 22% and DeVore is at 9%. Four in 10 Republicans still have no preference.

Weirdly, Campbell – who’s pro-choice, pro-gay rights and who has advocated raising gasoline taxes – holds about the same lead among Republicans who say they are strong conservatives. Among them it’s Campbell 27%, Fiorina 25% and DeVore 13%.

Clearly, Calbuzz Rule No. 3 of Politics is at play here: Nobody knows anything.

They certainly don’t know much about the GOP candidates. About six in 10 voters have no opinion about Campbell or Fiorina and about eight in 10 know nothing about DeVore. Campbell’s favorable-unfavorable – among those who have any clue who he is – is 23-18% positive; Fiorina’s is 20-22% negative and DeVore’s is 9-13% negative.

Among Republican primary voters, Campbell’s favorable is 31-13%; Fiorina’s is 24-17% and DeVore’s is 11-11%. Not much to write home about.

Boxer will get some help next month when President Obama comes out to Los Angeles to help her with fundraising. But what she really needs is a way to bring home all those moderates and non-partisans who are not naturally in her base. If she draws Fiorina or DeVore for an opponent, she can lean heavily on women and abortion rights because they’re both pro-life. But if she gets Campbell, that issue – one of Boxer’s most reliable — is a non-starter: he’s pro-choice.

More on the governor’s race polling A few points that eluded us in our first take.

1. Her money is moving voters. Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is down 63-14% to former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. But she’s spent about $14 million on cable and broadcast TV, including about $4 million in the past month, and he’s put up just a paltry $800,000, according to sources close to the Poizner campaign. If Poizner begins to put up some serious ads, can those numbers move? We just don’t see how he can take her out from the right – which seems to be his play for the GOP primary. We’d like to see the ad with black-belt Steve doing karate chops on a pile of eMeg’s money.

2. Her money is moving voters II. Look at Los Angeles County, where voters don’t know Whitman except what they see on TV and where they don’t know Attorney General Jerry Brown like they do in the Bay Area. In January, while she was starting her radio ads and before her big TV buy, Brown led Whitman in the Field Poll 59-28%. But after her media blitz, Whitman led Brown 45-40%. In Los Angeles County! Which any Democrat must win in order to win statewide.

3. Her money is moving voters III. In January, before her ad blitz, Brown led Whitman 47-25% among non-partisans – voters who are not rooted in a party and who are the most likely to be swayed by advertising. After eMeg’s opening blitz, she surged ahead among non-partisans by 50-36%. Did we forget to mention that statewide California races are won by holding your base and winning the middle?

Just in case we didn’t make our point here, let’s go over it again: These are HUGE shifts in a three month period among voters who are crucial – Los Angeles County and non-partisans. Certainly, when the context is different – for example, when eMeg comes under attack from Latinos, environmentalists and labor – she may fall as quickly as Arnold Schwarzenegger did, no matter how much money she throws into the air.

But so far all we’ve seen and heard from the so-called independent expenditure folks is a lot of jaw-flapping. Show us the money.

The Field Poll surveyed 748 likely voters March 9-15 in English and Spanish, including 353 likely Republican primary voters. The margin of error for the overall sample is +/- 3.7% and for the GOP sample it is +/- 5.5%

eMeg Proves Beatles Wrong; Money Buys Her Love

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

[Update: We now have the poll in hand and will confirm all our numbers.]

Holy mole, we said (having just returned from Mexico), when we heard (from actual subscribers to the Field Poll) that eMeg Whitman has jumped to a 49-point lead over Steve “The Commish” Poizner in the Republican primary for governor and skittered to a three-point edge over Democrat Crusty the General Brown in the general election.

Here at Calbuzz, which our good friends at the Field Poll considers too bootleg to take on as a paid subscriber, we wondered: With eMeg leading Poiz 63-14%, why shouldn’t we just declare him done and call for the fork?

“Because,” said his spokesguy Jarrod Agen, “it’s still too early. The voters know little about Meg. She’s run a couple of positive spots that haven’t laid out any solutions. Steve’s commercials [which we haven’t seen yet] will lay out real solutions and when voters compare the two they’re going to choose the guy who will cut taxes across the board and cut benefits to illegal immigrants over an online auction CEO.”

What else can he say? His guy’s favorable-unfavorable ratio is 16-32%, including 12-30% among Democrats, 17-32% among non-partisans and just 20-34% among Republicans. Oy.

With the help of about $40 in total spending and an estimated $13 million on cable and broadcast advertising, eMeg favorable-unfavorable is now 40-27%, including 24-36% among Democrats, 46-22% among non-partisans and 56-16% among Republicans. Thereby proving that the Beatles were wrong: money CAN buy you some love.

The margin of error in the Field Poll, we are told, was plus-or-minus 5.5 percentage points among 353 likely Republican primary voters. But eMeg’s lead is so big and so broad, error margins have no meaning.

The 3.7% margin among 748 likely November voters is more relevant, since Field found eMeg leading Crusty 46-43% — a convincing 13-point shift from January when Brown led Whitman 46-36% — but within the margin of error.

We don’t have the actual Field Poll in hand and Mark DiCamillo won’t talk to us until after the actual subscribers have published their stories, but if we have the data right, it’s clear that Whitman has picked up ground on Brown, especially among independents. While Brown leads 69-20% among Democrats and Whitman leads 77-13% among Republicans, eMeg also now leads among non-partisans 50-36%.

Moreover, while Brown has a gigonda lead among the liberals who make up 20% of the electorate and Whitman has a healthy lead among conservatives who make up 35% of the voters, they’re just about dead even (Whitman 43%, Brown 42%) over the middle-of-the-road voters who make up 45% of the voting public.

Interestingly, there seems to be little gender effect in the Whitman-Brown contest: Whitman leads 45-43% among women and 47-43% among men.

Brown’s hold on the older voters who remember him best, however, appears somewhat fragile: if the Field Poll is to be believed (and if we’ve got it right), Brown leads by 10 points among voters age 18-39, but trails by 7 points among those 40-64 and by 10 points among those 65 and older. We’ll look more closely at the age issue when we can talk to the folks at Field and when the Public Policy Institute of California comes out with their poll next week.

BTW: According to Field, Brown’s overall favorable-unfavorable ratio is just 41-37%; among Democrats it is 60-20%, it’s 38-34% among non-partisans and 19-60% among Republicans.

It’s hard to argue with Brown spokesperson Sterling Clifford (aka Clifford Sterling) when he notes: “Meg Whitman has spent a year and $40 million running for governor and what that’s accomplished is that she’s in a virtual dead heat with Jerry Brown, who launched his campaign two weeks ago.”

One area where Poizner’s money could have an effect is among conservative voters who, for now, seem OK with Whitman. Poizner has been hammering Whitman in public appearances and web materials as a squish. But he hasn’t done much of that on TV. As a result, Meg leads Brown among those voters who identify a lot with the Tea Party movement by 87-8% and she leads among those who identify somewhat 75-17%. If Poizner makes her out of be a liberal in conservative clothing, those numbers could drop.

Which would be good news to Brown, who leads Whitman 58-29% among the 67% of voters who say they do not identify with or don’t know anything about the Tea Party movement.

Epic Clash of GOP Titans – Giants Beat Rangers 8-5

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

After months of anticipation, build-up and trash-talking between the rival camps, Republican wannabe governors Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner met in their first critical face-to-face debate Monday night – and when the rubber met the road, the deal went down and the dust settled, 10 things were very clear:

1-She’s wayyyy taller than he is. Not since Mugsy Bogues took it to the hole against Manute Bol has there been such a vertical mismatch as that revealed by the shot of eMeg and The Commish shaking hands at the beginning of Monday night’s New Majority debate in Costa Mesa, which reminded us of that silly theory that the taller candidate always wins the election.

2-Ustream totally sucks. Okay, so Calbuzz admits we were a teeny bit late to the party vis a vis the whole debate thing, as we had a pressing engagement at Surprise Stadium to watch the Giants open a can of whupass on the Rangers, 8-5, with Fred Lewis going yard in the first inning to set the tone of the evening.

But, hey, we did the responsible thing and left in the top of the 6th, which was plenty of time to get back to the hotel, watch the web replay and come up with a host of characteristically blinding insights about the debate. But noooo…Ustream had to muck everything up so we could only watch the debate in four second increments, followed by endless stretches of waiting before the next four seconds of Meg saying “I’ve been in business 30 years,” and Steve yelling, “immigration, bold tax cuts, immigration” which got REALLY ANNOYING really quickly and left us reliant on the views of others, which actually turned out to be pretty uniform anyway.

3-The L.A. Times thought it was a snoozefest. How’s this for a grabber headline: “Poizner, Whitman cover familiar territory in debate.” And when Cathy Decker calls it “generally genteel” in the lede, you can be sure no one made news.

4-Poizner won. We know this because there was an email waiting in our inbox from his campaign that quoted communications director Jarrod Agen and said, “Steve Poizner Wins Debate.”

5-The San Jose Mercury-News thought it was a snooze fest. How’s this for stop the presses stuff: “Long anticipated first debate between Whitman and Poizner mostly echoes stump speeches.” Zzzzz.

6-Whitman won. We know this because there was an email waiting in our inbox from her campaign that quoted Tucker Bounds, her communications director, as saying, “This was an enormous victory for our campaign tonight.”

7-The Chronicle thought it was a snoozefest. “Poizner-Whitman: GOP Candidates’ First Debate.” This is what is known in the business as a “neutral headline.” Lock up the kids, Maude, those whacky Republicans are at it again.

8-The most entertaining webcast of the night was Flashreport’s guided tour of the food of the pressroom at the debate site. At least Fleischman’s video WORKED.

9-Meg looked silly forgetting her mic. From the pieces of the damn thing we actually got to see, Her Megness was  so excited to start ripping Poizner’s face off that she started delivering her mandatory thanks to the organizers and opening lines without remembering that she needed to hold a microphone to do it. Sheesh.

10-Meg won. As Ken McLaughlin pointed out in his piece, eMeg’s big challenge of the night was to prove she was “ready for prime time.” By at least holding her own with Poizner, not committing a major gaffe or falling off the stage, she clearly accomplished that, while The Commish fell short of forcing a turnover, which is what he needed to change the campaign narrative with the debate. Did we mention that she’s a lot taller?