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Archive for 2010



Meyer: Careful Where You Motor That Boat, Carly

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

When Barbara Boxer’s attack ad on Carly Fiorina came out the other day, with its mention of Fiorina’s “million dollar yacht,” we were reminded of an unfortunate nautical gaffe  made by another Republican candidate for U.S. Senate — John Seymour, who was trying in 1992 to hang onto the seat he’d been appointed to by Pete Wilson, after Wilson became governor.

Challenged by Dianne Feinstein, Seymour was a decent man but something of a hapless statewide candidate. And it didn’t help when, at the California Republican Party Convention, he was trying to demonstrate his sensitivity to the down-and-out by saying: “Sometimes you lose your job. Maybe you’ve got to sell your boat to keep your family going.”

He tried later to explain himself, telling our friend Cathy Decker at the LA Times: “I wasn’t speaking of yacht owners. Boat owners! There’s hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions (of boats) in California.” But he never could portray himself as anything but a wealthy, Orange County Republican and, in the election that swept Bill Clinton into the White House, Feinstein beat him 54-38%.

None of which anyone but a few alter kockers even remembers. But it is a delicious backdrop for Calbuzzer Chief Pen Stabber Tom Meyer’s cartoon this week in which an environmentally challenged Hurricane Carly is outraged at the damn proletarian whale (sorry Babs) that gets in the way of her yacht.


Senate situationer: As Babs and Carly prepare to spar on public radio Wednesday afternoon, a non-face-to-face showdown certain to be heard by hundreds, three quick thoughts on the state of the the race:

1-Team Fiorina may come to regret giving Boxer a free pass to pummel their candidate for a full week without offering an answer to Bab’s tough ad about Carly’s reign of error at HP.

At a time when most recession-riddled voters are just tuning in, and one third of them know next to the nothing about Fiorina, the attack line Babs has pressed since the first debate about Hurricane slashing 30,000 jobs is not exactly the first thing Mean Girl wanted folks to know about her.

2-When Fiorina finally responded, she didn’t even try to blunt the heart-of-cold CEO narrative that Boxer is pushing, but rather tried to change the subject with her beat down of Babs for getting all huffy with a general for not using her correct title.

Boxer’s worst You Tube moment is a great insider issue, but not particularly salient to the problems of the unemployed; moreover, many women voters of Barbara’s generation, and the one that followed, who had to fight fiercely for respect in the workplace, may not think she was all that out of line with her comment.

3-The big unknown in the campaign remains the question of whether Fiorina will benefit from a massive cash infusion from the Rove Republican forces now funneling hundreds of millions of post-Citizens United corporate dollars, often with no disclosure of the donors, into mid-term races across the country.

Two factors mitigate against it: a) giving iCarly a real boost will be a most expensive proposition and any organization that decides to play in California, shadowy or not, must be all-in to be effective – half measures won’t do it; b) unlike eMeg, Fiorina has yet to make a serious and sustained financial commitment to the race out of her own pocketbook; one of the assets national Republicans originally saw in her candidacy was her ability to self-fund.

Given the latest polls, until she puts in more than table stakes, they may decide their money can be spent more efficiently, and with a greater chance of success, on smaller battlegrounds. A Senate seat is a Senate seat, no matter wherefrom.

Poll: Ma’am Babs Widens Lead Over Hurricane Carly

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has expanded her lead slightly over her Republican challenger, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who remains unknown to nearly a third of California voters, the Field Poll reports today.

Babs, who has sought to define Fiorina as a greedy former business tycoon who laid off thousands of workers and enriched herself in the process, holds a 47-41% lead in the race. And she has a big opportunity to further shape public opinion about her rival, because 28% of voters  have neither a favorable nor unfavorable view of Hurricane Carly.

Boxer’s level of support has not moved since July and those with an unfavorable view of her (48%) still outnumber those with a favorable view (45%). But her negative TV ad attacking Fiorina appears to have had some effect, with Carly’s support dropping from 44% in July, and undecideds increasing to 12%, from 9% since then.

In addition, Boxer has dramatically increased unfavorable views about Fiorina: voters with a favorable view (34%, the same as July) are outnumbered by those with an unfavorable view (38%, a big jump from 29% in July).

At the same time, Boxer’s positive ad may not have brought her more voters, but it appears to have improved her favorability. In July she had an 11-point net negative favorability of 41-52% and today her net negative is 3 percentage points.

Boxer Fiorina
Likely voters 47 41
Democrats 76 11
Republicans 10 79
Independents 46 40
Men 48 42
Women 46 40
Whites 45 47
Latinos* 48 29
LA County 47 38
Other SoCal 43 46
Central Valley 31 55
SF Bay Area 67 28
Other NorCal 41 33
Coastal 52 37
Inland 33 51
*very small sample
Field Poll 9/13/10

Both candidates are running well within their party bases: Boxer has 76% of Democrats and Fiorina has 79% of Republicans. But Boxer is also beating Fiorina 46-40% among the crucial independent voters.

And while Boxer enjoys a 46-40% lead among women, she holds a surprising  48-42% lead among men as well. This may be one of the reasons that Fiorina’s first TV spot, released Thursday, goes after Boxer as arrogant, using a clip of the hearing in June 2009 where she interrupted Brigadier Gen. Michael Walsh and asked him to call her “Senator” instead of “ma’am” because, as she put it, “I worked so hard to get that title.”

Fiorina needs to fuel the anti-Boxer anti-Washington sentiment evident in the Field Poll’s finding that while 67% of Boxer supporters say they are voting FOR her, 65% of Fiorina supporters say they are voting AGAINST Boxer. Maybe that explains the oddly off-point tag line in Fiorina’s ad where she concludes: “I’ll really go to work to end the arrogance in Washington.” (Huh?)

The Field Poll suggests there may only be a small audience for that pitch as views on Boxer – who has been in Congress for 28 years, including three terms in the Senate – are well established: only 7% of voters have no opinion about her.

Moreover, while Fiorina has a small lead among white voters (47-45%), Boxer has a huge 48-29% lead among Latinos (although the Field Poll sample of Latinos was unreliably small in this survey).

There are several issues Boxer has not yet put into a TV ad defining Fiorina in ways that are out of step with a majority of California voters. These include abortion, climate change, offshore oil drilling and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. If Boxer unloads on some or all of these, it is almost certain to affect a significant portion of the 28% of voters who as yet have no opinion about Fiorina.

Fiorina has a tough challenge: finding a way to reverse her standing with independent voters who, in California at least, tend to be politically moderate – and to the left of her – on those issues that Boxer has yet to include in her advertising.

Calbuzz is somewhat hampered in analyzing the survey in that the Field Poll has refused to allow us to become paid subscribers, with access to crosstabs until after they have been published. The data in this report come from sources.

The Field Poll surveyed 857 registered voters, including 599 likely voters, Sept. 14-21. The overall margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.1% and for likely voters it is +/- 5.8%. The data for this article are based on likely voters.

The future of print: As daily newspapers keep steadily shedding circulation, The Onion closely analyzed market conditions for the industry, and offers a a pretty damned funny hard look at the inevitable conclusion of this sad and regrettable trend. It’s here.


Field Poll: Brown, Whitman Tied in Governor’s Race

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Today’s Field Poll — showing the race for governor a dead heat, with Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown at 41% each — suggests opportunities and challenges for both candidates. But one number jumps out at us: despite spending in the range of $60 million on TV advertising alone, eMeg’s favorable rating has not improved one iota in six months.

And while most of her advertising has been aimed at undermining Brown’s image with voters – and she has driven up his unfavorable rating by 7 points since July – Brown’s favorable-to-unfavorable rating is still slightly better than Whitman’s. Hers is 40% favorable and 45% unfavorable (5% net negative); his is 44% favorable and 47% unfavorable (3% net negative).

In other words, Whitman’s vaunted and record-shattering media strategy is working to drag down Brown but it’s failing to boost eMeg herself. It’s hard to see where she can improve except among independents, where she is currently splitting the vote with Brown at 38% each.

If these are her most important target voters in the coming weeks, we can expect to see Whitman try to portray herself as a moderate on issues like climate change (which would mean NOT endorsing Prop. 23’s unraveling of California’s greenhouse-gas controls) and continuing to soften her language on illegal immigration.

The trick is to draw independents to her without angering her base vote among conservative Republicans who won’t be happy if she moves to the middle on any issue – especially climate change. But what are the right wingers going to do? Vote for Brown or refuse to vote, and thereby let Brown win? Probably not.

On the other hand, Brown – whose media campaign only began on Labor Day — is struggling to win the support he needs among independents, women, Latinos, voters in Los Angeles and even his own Democratic base.

Brown Whitman
Democrats 69 15
Republicans 9 75
Independents 38 38
Men 41 40
Women 41 41
Whites 40 44
Latinos* 43 40
LA County 38 41
Other SoCal 34 50
Central Valley 33 47
SF Bay Area 64 27
Other NorCal 36 36
Coastal 46 37
Inland 31 49
*very small sample
Field Poll 9/13/10

Because far more women are Democrats compared to Republicans, Whitman’s tie with Brown among women is remarkable. Moreover, if she really is pulling four-in-10 Latinos (and the sample is apparently not reliable, which the Field Poll should address in its next survey), then here, too, she is doing far better than your run-of-the-mill Republican.

Calbuzz is hampered in its analysis of the survey because we do not have access to the crosstabs. The Field Poll has refused to allow Calbuzz to become a paid subscriber to the survey and the results we have come from sources.

Whitman’s people will argue that the Field Poll shows their campaign is on target – that an unknown former CEO who had no political profile in California is running dead even with a man whose name is a household word in California politics and who has been in public life for more than half his 72 years.

But there’s a flaw in the argument in that Whitman, after spending record millions and throwing everything in the book at Brown, has failed thus far to knock him off his stride. And his media campaign has only just begun.

On Wednesday, Brown released a new ad attacking Whitman for advocating “eliminating the capital gains tax for wealthy investors, including herself.” Who this ad is supposed to move is unclear, but we guess it’s aimed at independents and moderates who are flirting with Whitman but might back away if they think she’ll bust the budget to benefit herself and her rich cronies.

When you look at the places where there’s room to expand their vote, Brown appears to have greater opportunities than does Whitman.

– He should kill Whitman among Latinos if he actually campaigned among them. If he put up Spanish-language ads mentioning her relationship with Pete Wilson (her campaign chairman) and her opposition to a path to citizenship (which 90% of Latinos favor), Brown would likely swamp her in that community.

– He should be beating her in LA County, where labor is strong, the Latino vote is big and coastal issues and offshore oil drilling are important. To do this, he’ll have to give voters there a reason to be FOR him, not just against Whitman.

– He should be doing much better among Democrats (especially younger voters who don’t know him) and women, both of whom he could be reaching with target mail, TV and radio, if he ever decides to spend the $30 million he’s stashed away.

On the other hand, if Whitman can improve her image among independents, women and Latinos, she well could pull out a victory. The new ad she released on Wednesday, with the tag line  “A governor ready on day one to start creating good jobs,” is aimed at reminding undecided voters of Hillary Clinton’s “Ready on day one” slogan and keep the emphasis on jobs (with no mention of cutting capital gains taxes).

Demonstrating her superior financial ability, Whitman also put up a new hit on Brown, charging that he failed to improve Oakland schools. Our prediction: the negative ad will get a lot more airtime than the positive one.

Despite all the sturm und drang of this campaign, the one big thing that has changed significantly in the past three months is that all the negative campaigning has driven up the number of undecided voters so that nearly two in 10 are now not sure who they’re for – if anyone.

The Field Poll surveyed 857 registered voters, including 599 likely voters, Sept. 14-21. The overall margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.1% and for likely voters it is +/- 5.8%. The data for this article are based on likely voters.

AP Was Dead Wrong on Death Penalty; New Polls

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

We’re glad the Associated Press rewrote completely Paul Elias’s original story on Jerry Brown and the death penalty that they released on Tuesday because the first version was (how can we say this gently?) just plain bullshit.

Brown has not, as the AP originally wrote, had “a change of heart” on capital punishment. He’s still personally opposed to the death penalty; and, as Attorney General in a state that has the death penalty, he and his office are still seeking to enforce it.

The alleged news hook for the original, bum story was that Brown’s “name is now affixed at the top of new lethal injection procedures that California officials want to use to execute six inmates in the coming months at the San Quentin State Prison death chamber.”

Only problem: this is nothing new. Brown’s AG’s office has been arguing for several years to uphold California’s death penalty, which was put on hold in 2006 by U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose, until the state could demonstrate that lethal injection procedures did not cause condemned prisoners to suffer cruel and unusual punishment.

“My office has been arguing these cases all along,” Brown said Monday. “We’re in the forefront on this.” Brown’s office contends that new procedures now in place will ensure that lethal injection will not be cruel and unusual punishment.

But that didn’t stop the AP from putting out a story that said: “Attorney General Jerry Brown and his lawyers are demanding that executions resume in California as soon as next week in a push that marks a significant change of heart for the former outspoken death penalty opponent.”

Which would be explosive stuff, considering the long political history of Brown and his father, the late Governor Pat Brown, on the volatile issue. Except…it’s not.

However, the original, heavy breathing AP yarn did give Meg Whitman who (like Elias, at least in this case)  doesn’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story, an opening to let loose one of her campaign’s typical clumsily written,  overbearing and over-reaching rants.

“Even on matters of life and death, Jerry Brown is willing to play politics. Brown’s newfound support for the death penalty after three decades of opposing it is as preposterous as his newfound appreciation for fiscal conservatism. None of this squares with Jerry Brown’s record and must have his supporters scratching their heads.”

To which, Brown’s flack, Sterling Clifford, replied: that she was the only one scratching her head:

“For Meg Whitman, who is on record at the Sacramento Bee editorial board discussing the death penalty as a cost-saving measure, to accuse someone else of playing politics with the death penalty is not something she should be doing.”

Brown’s office is seeking to use new guidelines for lethal injection to carry out the sentence on Albert Greenwood Brown next Wednesday. Albert Brown was convicted in 1980 of abducting, raping and murdering a 15-year-old Riverside County girl on her way to school.

What’s new about Brown’s position? Nothing.

“The Attorney General’s office is doing its job. The Attorney General is doing his job, which is to uphold the laws of the state of California,” said Clifford. “He’s personally opposed to it but will enforce the law.”

In other words, no change of heart. No change of anything – at least not since 1977, when Brown vowed to uphold the law after his veto of a death penalty bill was overridden by the Legislature.

How or why the AP story got dramatically rewritten, we don’t know. But we expect Brown’s head exploded when he read the original and someone went postal on the AP. Which may or may not be a capital offense.

Polls you can ignore (or not): Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning polling outfit, has a new survey showing Brown ahead of Whitman 47-42% among likely voters after being up 46-40% two months ago. This robocall poll has 630 alleged likely voters with a margin of error of plus or minus about 4%. Most interesting finding – if the sample is any good, which we can’t confirm – Brown’s favorable is 42% positive and 45% negative while Whitman’s – after spending $120 million or so on TV – is 35% positive and 49% negative. Ouch.

Meanwhile Pulse Opinion Research, a Rasmussen offshoot, did a poll for Fox News of an alleged 1,000 likely voters (margin of error plus or minus about 3%) that shows Brown and Whitman tied at 45% each – a shift in Brown’s favor from 49-43% for Whitman on Sept. 11. Take it with a grain of salt.

As well you should give only passing credence to the finding that Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina are tied at 46% for Fiorina and 47% for Boxer – a small change from the 46-44% in Boxer’s favor in September.

Attention direct mail vendors: Worst idea in the history of your business.

The Death of Truth II; Meg’s Big Decision; Bill 4 Jerry

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

You see an ad on TV in which a candidate or someone else says flatly, “______ (my opponent) raised taxes.” And you say to yourself, “Gee, that must be true or they wouldn’t allow it on TV.”

Wrong. Under the Federal Communications Act, which governs broadcast stations (because the airwaves, allegedly at least, belong to the people), candidates may lie with impunity.

In fact, the law “requires broadcasters who run candidate ads to show them uncensored, even if the broadcasters believe their content to be offensive or false,” as Brooks Jackson, explained in the best primer on the issue on the web.

Ironically, that’s the same Brooks Jackson, formerly of CNN, whose erroneous report is the evidence Bill Clinton is referring to in the Meg Whitman ad that falsely accuses Jerry Brown of raising taxes when he was governor. (Clinton, btw, has since denounced the ad.)

The First Amendment, which we all remember says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” makes it really difficult for anyone to craft legislation allowing any third party to adjudicate what is and is not “true” or “factual” in political speech.

All a candidate has to do is show a picture in the ad of himself or herself and have a statement saying he or she approved the ad. And they can lie away, which they often do. (For further discussion of this phenomenon see “The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying.”)

Which is why, according to Brown’s mouth organ The Sterling of Clifford, “Most people assume what they see in political ads is not true. People see a commercial and they go to whatever news source they trust to confirm or reject what they just heard.”

This is not the same in commercial speech, which is where the confusion comes in.

Ford cannot run an ad saying its latest car will get 100 miles to the gallon if that’s not a fact. If a commercial product makes a claim that’s not substantiated by facts or is not a subjective observation like “It’s Amazing!” then the ad can be censored by the TV station or network and the sponsor may be liable for damages.

A candidate’s right to lie in commercials, however, does not necessarily extend to political committees and other political players besides candidates themselves. That’s because when broadcast stations run ads from committees making charges, they may be held liable if the person skewered decides to sue for libel or slander.

Now, for a public figure to win a libel or slander suit is really, really, really hard because he or she has to show that the person or entity being sued knew the facts were wrong and broadcast them anyway with malicious intention. The standard is deliberately difficult for public figures in order to encourage robust public debate without fear of being charged with false defamation.

So, Calbuzzers, when you see an ad on TV, check to see who paid for it at the end. If it was put up by a candidate, no one had to say whether it was true or not before it was broadcast. That’s why newspapers, online sites, radio and TV reporters pay attention to what’s in those political ads. They’re the only ones who can tell you whether they’re based on truth or falsehood.

Department of Dumb Ideas: Regular readers of Calbuzz know that we have nothing but respect and affection for our friend George Skelton at the ByGodLA Times (he’s got even more institutional memory than we do!). But his piece arguing that Jerry Brown should pledge to serve only one term suggested that George is desperately seeking fresh material about the current state of politics, even if he has to resort to what he knows is a bonehead idea. Which, he acknowledged by saying: “I don’t know of anyone else who thinks it’s a good idea.” You got that right, George. Unless Krusty — should he happen to beat eMeg — wants to start out his third term as the lamest duck ever to sit in the horseshoe’s back office.

Yes, no, maybe so: Meg Whitman kept bobbing and weaving on Proposition 23 Monday, telling the Sacramento Bee editorial board she was pretty sure she’d be making her stance on the most high-profile measure on the November ballot clear any day now.

When asked about Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s global warming law AB 32, Whitman said she would release a list of her proposition positions at the end of this week or at the start of next week.

Or maybe whenever the eMeg Empire marketing department gets around to telling her what she thinks.

Whitman has been all over the lot on the out-of-state-oil-company-financed measure, aimed at blocking California’s landmark legislation; she’s variously bashed AB32 as “a job killer,” said she favored suspending it for one year instead of indefinitely and just completely dithered on the matter, as she did with the Bee ed board.

A few hours before her latest procrastination, Brown, who opposes Prop. 23, stepped up the pressure on eMeg at a campaign stop with green industry types at a SoCal solar company:

Meg Whitman wants to have it both ways. She wants credit for supporting the environment and green jobs, but she won’t do what is necessary to support this vital industry. We need a governor who will do what is right, not a governor who doesn’t know what is right.

When she finally does get around to taking a position, we’ll be surprised if Whitman comes out in favor of Prop. 23.

Despite efforts to pressure her from the right she simply has nothing to gain by backing the measure. The election between her and Brown will be decided among independents, who strongly favor AB32; sure, the right-wingers will be grumpy if she doesn’t support their who-really-knows-if-global-warming-is really-real  proposal, but what else are they going to do – write in Chuck DeVore?

Bill Brushes Off Jerry’s Gaffe: In an interview with Yahoo! News and the Huffington Post, Bubba said all’s good between him and Jerry Brown and that he understands why the old man made his stupid joke about not having taxes with this state. Also: “Unbelievable,” Clinton said. “Meg Whitman made me a household face again and my younger self, too, which I’m very grateful for.”