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Does The Commish Have an Outside Game?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Meg Whitman’s capture of the influential endorsement of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association is a big blow to Steve Poizner’s inside game campaign approach. So the key, emerging question for The Commish in the race for the Republican nomination for governor is:  does he have an outside game?

For months, Poizner has pursued a tortoise-beats-the-hare game plan, patiently traveling the state, appearing at every conservative talk show and ed board that asked and rounding up grassroots endorsements from no-name local elected officials and GOP county committee chairmen.

All of which would be just ducky in giving him an organizational boost – if anybody had ever heard of the guy. As it is, Single Digit Steve is in danger of becoming the Willy Loman of Republican politics, selling his wares door-to-door in pursuit of a campaign of tactics, while eMeg blows him away with an on-the-airwaves strategic effort.

“Steve had a lot going for him, and hasn’t seemed to capitalize,” said one longtime, high-ranking Republican insider. “He has a very good message, is very focused, and would be a solid governor. But he’s played too much of the inside game and needs now to ramp up the outside game.”

It’s instructive on this point to read Steve Harmon’s intriguing piece about the state of the Poizner campaign in the Contra Costa Times. It’s hard to decide what was the worst news for Team Poizner in the Harmon report: a) that “wavering supporters” are criticizing the operation anonymously; b) that some of them even snitched out campaign intelligence to the Whitman camp or; c) that the grand strategy for the Commish is to win the primary with a last-month blitzgrieg broadcast attack on eMeg.

Calbuzz votes for c).

Steve Poizner is prepared to hold his fire against Meg Whitman…until the final month of the primary campaign, according to wavering supporters who were told of the strategy in an appeal for them to stay with him…

“It was fairly clear to me that they’re laying low and will continue to lay low until the final month,” (one such backer) added. “They may be proven to be a brilliant strategists (sic), but it’s making a lot of people nervous.”

As well it should.

With Poizner suffering a drip-drip-drip erosion of defecting supporters –- former Assembly GOP leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo is just the latest –- the eMeg-will-save-us-all cry is getting stronger, a trend that Monday’s Jarvis endorsement will only encourage.

The endorsement’s nonsensical claim that Whitman is a better bet to hold the line on taxes (no mention that relations between Poizner and the Jarvis group were strained by his shyness about going to the wallet to defeat Arnold’s special election initiatives last May) ignores the fact that it’s he him, not she her, who embraces across-the-board tax cuts; he him, not she her, who opposes Arnold’s big water bond; and he him, not she her, who denounces to the heavens eMeg campaign chairman Pete Wilson’s $7 billion record tax increase, back when PiWi was governor.

To our ears, it sounds like opportunistic Jarvis Association president Jon Coupal let the cat out of the bag during an interview with Bakersfield conservative yakker Inga Barks, a few hours after the endorsement was announced:

“The three scariest words in the California lexicon right now are ‘Governor Jerry Brown,’ and right now she is head to head in a Democrat state, the Rasumussen poll has it 43-to-43 Meg even with him. And that, I’ll tell you, we can have the best candidate in the world and what good is that if they can’t win?”

The Jarvis endorsement demonstrates that Whitman’s electability argument is proving at least as persuasive among movement types as Poizner’s effort to make the case for ideological purity.

The last time we checked, Poizner was down by 30 points with the clock running out. He might be able to get back in the game but not with his  feckless four-corners offense. Time to fast break, play above the rim a little and toss up some three pointers, Commish.

At least we’re first in something: At a time when California is circling the drain, it’s nice to know that the Golden State still earns its national trend-setting reputation on at least one score.

Recent days have brought a flurry of reports, like this, this and this, that the U.S. government is intractably broken. But as all good Calbuzzers know, California was wayyyyy ahead of the curve in being ungovernable.

Say it ain’t so, Your Megness: Whatsamatter — all your pink Lacostes were out to the laundry?

IE Hit on eMeg Targets Indie Voters, Not Poizner

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

When “Level the Playing Field 2010” – the Democratic, pro-Jerry Brown independent campaign committee – launched their first ads against Meg Whitman, the Armies of eMeg immediately accused the group of  meddling in the Republican primary race for governor in a bid to help Steve Poizner.

Team Whitman pointed as precedent to the ad campaign run by the Gray Davis’s consultants against former L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan starting in January 2002. That attack helped cause Riordan’s support to collapse in the GOP primary, leaving Davis facing a weaker general election candidate in conservative businessman Bill Simon.

The argument now, from communications director Tucker Bounds and others in eMeg’s camp, is that the Brown-for-governor Democrats would rather face Poizner in November, so are trying to knock eMeg out, as Davis did to Riordan.

“Clearly, Team Brown not only prefers to run against Steve Poizner in the general election, but is taking steps to achieve that with a radio buy targeting Republican primary voters,” Bounds said in an email to reporters.

But the argument is bogus, based on a false premise that has become false conventional wisdom: that  Davis strategists Garry South, David Doak and Paul Maslin set out in 2002 to take Riordan out of the GOP primary. That’s not what they aimed to do. And it’s not what the “Level the Playing Field” guys are trying to do today

The goal of the anti-Meg campaign (as it was for Davis’s people in 2002) is to increase negative perceptions – especially among conservative Democrats and moderate independents – toward the candidate they expect to face in the fall. In this case: Meg Whitman. It has nothing to do with Poizner, really. If they help him, so much the better, from their point of view. But that’s not the design.

In the December 2001 Field Poll, Gov. Gray Davis’s favorability was 42% positive and 47% negative. Riordan’s was 39% positive and just 24% negative. Worse for Davis, Riordan’s favorability was 32-31% among Democrats and 34-18% among independents. Riordan was so far ahead in the primary that South and the others had no doubt they’d be facing Riordan in the general election. They had to begin cutting Democrats and independents away from Riordan’s base.

Which is why they attacked him from the LEFT, with devastating ads showing Riordan himself calling abortion “murder” and pointing out that while he was calling himself pro-choice, he’d given serious money to anti-abortion causes.

Unlike the “Level the Playing Field” forces, however, who have launched with a puny little radio buy, Davis unloaded on Riordan with $9 million on TV in five weeks. Actually, they were about to take down the ads when Maslin found that the ads – originally designed to hurt Riordan with Democrats and independents – were also hurting him with Republicans, who began to see him as a weasel. So they kept the ads up and Riordan’s GOP support cratered.

Today, Meg Whitman’s overall favorability is 25% positive and 20% negative in the January Field Poll. It’s 34-8% among Republicans and only 16-31% among Democrats. But it’s 27-13% among independents – about 2-1 positive – and that’s what the pro-Brown forces now want to alter.

The initial strike against Meg – in their opening 30-second spot that was designed mostly to grab some media attention – charged Whitman has “taken the side of the corporate special interests who want to roll back California’s bi-partisan law fighting global warming.”

And the Level 2010 web site includes a link to a Calbuzz analysis explaining why Whitman injected the environment as an issue in the governor’s race and how she had made a strategic mistake by assailing AB 32, California’s pioneering greenhouse gas reduction law.

In short, the opening shot at eMeg was, as with Davis and Riordan, from the left. And the ensuing 60-second spot – with its argument that she won’t debate, won’t release her tax returns and won’t explain her income and bonuses at eBay, plus the charge that she billed shareholders for use of her corporate jet – seems more aimed at independents than it does Republicans.

Kyle Roberts of Smart Media Group, eMeg’s media consultants, argued in a campaign memo that the initial radio buy was aimed at Republican listeners in Fresno, Sacramento and San Francisco in a campaign “designed to target and persuade Republicans during their primary election.”

Well, Kyle, that might be a side benefit. But the real goal here is to take Meg down a notch or two among those independents and Democrats who – for now — think she’s OK.

“They’re coming at her from the left, which isn’t a strategy to get Poizner as a nominee,” said South. “They’re assuming Meg Whitman is going to be the Republican nominee just like we assumed Riordan was going to be the nominee.”

What Level the Playing Field 2010 doesn’t have is what the Davis campaign team had in January 2002 when they threw down $9 million and bet the farm on early advertising against the guy they thought they’d be facing in November: a big budget and brass balls.

[Posted 12:01 am; updated 5:25 am]

Hahn: Newsom Don’t Know Much About Lite Gov

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Democrat Janice Hahn’s lieutenant governor campaign this morning has dropped a 55-second web video on Gavin Newsom’s head that’s pretty darn funny. If you like Sam Cooke and you’re not Newsom, who is  considering jumping into the gov lite race now that he crapped out of the heavy gov race, that is.

The intro on Hahn’s web site says: “There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not Gavin Newsom is going to get into the Lt. Governor’s race. So, we made a quick must-see video about what Gavin doesn’t know about being Lt. Governor.” Here at Calbuzz, we make no judgment about Prince Gavin’s worthiness to be lieutenant governor. We just like a good goof. Maybe  Hahn consultant Garry South  (formerly Newsom’s)  can call it  “Whether You Like It Or Not, Part II.”