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Neel Strong in Debate; Brown’s Record Stronger

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

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Top line on Thursday night’s debate between Neel Kashkari and Gov. Jerry Brown: Neel put in a strong and substantive showing. But it won’t matter because Brown makes an inarguable case that California was in the toilet when he took over and since then he’s put the budget in the black, added 4 1.4 million jobs, implemented Obamacare, got a deal on water and achieved relative harmony in Sacramento. Higher education, immigration and climate change have all been addressed in some form. Which is why six in 10 voters approve of his job performance.

Neel, despite looking something like Mr. Spock, proved he belonged on the same stage, was not intimidated and showed familiarity, if not mastery, of key issues. His fundamental problem is that the premise of his campaign does not reflect reality. Voters don’t believe, and they sure don’t want to hear, the negative case he’s making. Voters want to hear positive stuff — paging Ronald Reagan! — as long as it doesn’t conflict too sharply with their own lives.

Neel’s other problem: he’s up against Republican orthodoxy on climate change, gay marriage and Obamacare, slicing into his Republican base, apparently in hopes of attracting independents. It won’t work: in California, you scratch an “independent” and usually you get a Democratic voter. That’s certainly the case with Brown: he leads Kashkari 42-24% among voters with no party preference.

We don’t fault Neel his effort: he’s basically a Calbuzz Republican (if he’d stop with the “crazy train”). Hopefully, he can be among those who lead the California GOP out of the wilderness.

Props to the CalChannel producers for limiting the number of reporters to two, both of whom asked excellent questions: HT John Myers, Dunia Elvir and Jim Newton. It was one of the better debates we’ve seen in recent years and we agree with Jerry — one is enough.

Here’s our live blog entries, from last to first.

7:55 – Brown closes with “we’ve got momentum and we’re moving in the right direction.” Neel closes with “rebuilding the middle class for you” and accuses Brown of “incrementalism.” Whatever that is. Neel says he’ll do “big things.” Whatever that means….Meanwhile Seattle leads Packers 29-10.

7:54 – H/t to Cathy Decker for noting that Kashkari keeps using the awful word “incentivize.” Yuk.

7:52 – Neel faults Brown’s UC policy for going after foreign students who have to pay higher tuition at the expense of “California kids.” Brown notes he froze tuition for UC and CSU for three years.

7:49 – Spoiler alert: Brown discloses that he will sign bill outlawing plastic bags. Kashkari says no way would he sign it; hits governor and Legislature for focusing on little things – like legislation allowing dogs in restaurants – instead of bigger vision “rebuilding the middle class.”

7:46 – California is recovering faster than the rest of the country, Brown says. Hits Neel on Goldman Sachs (not some poor immigrant grocery store bagger). Brown making the case for a positive view of California.

7:44 – Neel dodges Myers question of whether he would have signed the bill letting illegals getting a driver’s license after Jerry strongly defends. Kashkari says we need federal not state legislation – Myers doesn’t follow up.

7:41 – Now Neel says he won’t try to end Obamacare – “I want to fix it.” Is this guy really a Republican? Brown getting more and more feisty: “There are so many glib statements out there I don’t know where to start.” Then he goes all populist on Neel, calling him a “salesman” who “learned your job well at Goldman Sachs” which “wrecked Wall Street.” Says Kashkari is “an arsonist putting out the fire.”

7:40 - Here’s Kashkari’s problem: He’s got to make the case that California’s going to hell in a hand basket but 58% of voters approve of Jerry Brown’s performance as governor.

7:37 – Jerry schooling on pension reform. The guy really is a wonder – 76 years old and fighting like he’s 40.

7:35 – Right-wingers will really be growling at Neel now: he not only explains his support of gay marriage, but also defends Brown’s action as AG not supporting Prop. 8 backers’ appeal of Court of Appeals decision tossing it. Reps are only 28% of voters, and he’s alienating at least half of them.

7:32 – Jerry says the crazy train will be built cause it’s cheaper than the alternatives and Neel’s “more familiar with the gravy train back in DC” because of TARP.

7:30 – It’s a tough thing to say, but there’s no way around it: Kashkari looks like Mr. Spock. There we said it. Talk about an eyebrow problem. Calbuzz may have to change his nickname from “Tyrion” to “Spock.”

7:26 – Good question by Dunia Elvir of Telemundo on realignment: a success or just moving the problem to locals? Weak Jerry response: “anything in government takes time.” Looks like pace is getting to him as he suddenly takes a big gulp from a a black mug, presumably water, then signals someone offstage for more. His face is red – is our projection #2 in today’s preview coming true?

7:24 - Neel defends his role in managing the Troubled Asset Recovery Program. Brown trumps by bringing up $32 billion given in bonuses to Wall Street.

7:22 – Kash attacks on teacher tenure, says Brown sided with forces of evil against children. Not true says Brown. Great exchange – Neel says Brown “should be ashamed” while Gandalf says that’s just “so wrong.” Good question by Jim Newton from L.A. Times; very fast paced debate, good exchanges, Myers doing a nice job of keeping to time limits.

7:20 – “We can’t simply solve all the worlds problems with an open border,” Neel says. He’s for compassion but also sending kids home. Brown’s for a fair hearing, whatever that is.

7:19 – GOP wing nuts won’t like hearing Neel say he “believe(s) in the science of climate change” but won’t support AB32 implementation because of high gas prices.

7:15 – Jerry filibusters to avoid talking about gas prices — they go up and they go down — just like he paddles on the left and right. Climate change, BTW, is “an existential threat.”

7:14 – Neel looks very good on Tesla, attacking Brown’s performance on the issue as “only one of many examples of failure” in the administration. Very articulate, tough and clear. Round to Kashkari.

7:12 – Asked if he would give special tax breaks for Tesla, Neel doesn’t answer directly. Says Brown hasn’t done enough. Says Tesla wanted massive subsidy that wouldn’t benefit California. CA is leader in alt energy and electric cars.

7:08 – Brown calls out Kashkari for ducking Myers question about Field Poll. Tells  Neel he doesn’t “have much chance to win” because he as governor has done a terrific job. Then he demonstrates his mastery of water politics while pitching for his water bond; “I don’t think this man understands” water policy.

7:07 – Neel says water and schools have to come before high-speed rail.

7:05 Neel thanks TV audience for watching the debate instead of the NFL game. Charges Brown is “out of touch…with middle class” and claims he will “rebuild middle class.” Good makeup on his chrome dome – no shine from studio lights.

7:04 – Jerry opens by reminding people that California was a mess when he took over and now it’s on the road to recovery with a balanced budget. Strong opener.

7:02 – John Myers introducing everyone – love his gold silk pocket handkerchief; Brown trimmed his eyebrows; Neel smiling weirdly.

6:58 – BTW, Calbuzz is NOT on site, where we can be spun; we’re in the state-of-the-art politically influential communities of Aptos and Santa Barbara…here we go…

6:52 – Eight minutes to kickoff on the debate, two minutes left before halftime in the other game, where Ha-Ha looks more like Boo-Hoo: torched for a touchdown and brushed off like a fly trying to tackle Marshawn Lynch. Oy

6:34 – Kashkari tells media outside of CalChannel studio that he intends to hold Brown accountable for his record. Sorry, Neel, but we don’t think Jerry will mind this. Field Poll: Brown job performance 58% approve, 36% disapprove. Oops.

6:02 – For the three people who are reading this instead of watching the game (thanks honey!) Seattle was held to a field goal at 6:03 in the first quarter.

5:48 – Whatever Neel and Jerry are doing right now, the Packers have stopped the Seahawks on their first drive but then roughed the punter. So Seattle has the ball back deep inside Packer territory. Dammit. Also, there’s a Packer named Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. Really.

5:24 pm – Glad to hear 41-year-old Neel Kashkari’s back problems — which almost derailed his only shot at a debate — disappeared before he sits down with 76-year-old Gov. Jerry Brown, whose back apparently is just fine. Sheesh.

 

Can Neel Beat the Spread? Plus New Poll Numbers

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

gandalfandtyrionFacing California’s most prosaic election in memory, our Department of Spectator Sport Politics and Insensate Choices is girding its loins (ow!) for the fall campaign by reviewing the words of the late Senator Gene (Not Joe) McCarthy:

“Being in politics is like being a football coach,” Clean Gene famously said. “You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.”

McCarthy’s maxim seems an appropriate invocation for tonight’s one and only debate between Gov. Jerry (+16 in the Field Poll) Brown and Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, since this Made for C-SPAN event will go nose-to-nose against NBC’s broadcast of the NFL season opener between the Seahawks (5.5 point favorites) against the Packers.

High roller tip: If you bet the ratings face-off, take the game and give the points. The one-hour debate starts at 7 p.m. in the Sacramento studio of The California Channel. Other sponsors are KQED, the Los Angeles Times and Telemundo52. Tune in here for a live blog and tweet fest.

newmegWhat Neel must do: Let’s be blunt: Tyrion’s chances of upsetting Gandalf in November are dependent upon at least one of three key things happening at the debate:

1-In a fiery exchange, Kashkari confounds Brown into showing his age by peppering him with a series of tough philosophical questions – “Before they invented golf balls, how did they measure hail?” “Why isn’t ‘phonetic’ spelled the way it sounds?” “What’s another word for ‘thesaurus?’” – that send the Jesuit incumbent screaming into the night before announcing his abdication the next morning.

2-In response to a question about the California Water Project from moderator John Myers, Brown takes a sip from his glass, suddenly complains of “pain in my jaw, radiating down my left arm,” then falls to the floor and turns blue. Alternatively, he copiously drools.

3-The event is interrupted by the breaking news that eMeg Whitman has purchased California, in a deal underwritten by Goldman Sachs, and is installing Neel in Sacramento as “Pro Consul and COO.”

woolymammothOf course, it’s also true that the impish Kashkari can win by losing – running a thoughtful, respectable and dignified race and beating the spread at the Calbuzz Casino (see below). In a year when California GOP Chairman Jim Brulte has begun to pull his party out of the La Brea tar pits, and helped put forth some of its most appealing candidates in recent years – Ashley Swearingen and Pete Peterson come to mind – Kashkari can make his bones politically.

As a personal matter, a stronger-than-expected race instantly will establish him as a Player in Republican politics, and leave him well positioned for another run for governor or for the Senate, depending on circumstances. More importantly, Kashkari could provide a major boost for Brulte’s long game effort to rebrand the party in California and make it relevant again.

We don’t agree with everything Tyrion says – as certified geezers, we strongly support railroads, and look askance at his attacks on Brown’s “Crazy Train” – but were impressed in an extensive interview with him by his biography, openness on immigration and rejection of Flashreport dogma. Now all he’s got to do is to keep running as a Calbuzz Republican.

pollingFun with numbers: The latest Field Poll shows Gandalf leading Tyrion 50-34 percent among likely voters. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that the Good Ship Kashkari is about to encounter.  Brown not only is winning 83% of Democrats and 42% of independents, he’s got 11% of Republicans. Neel, on the other hand, pulls 77% of Republicans, but just 24% of independents and a puny 6% of Democrats.

Worse for Kash & Karry, he beats Brown among conservatives 71-16%, but loses liberals 91-1% and gets stomped among all-important middle-of-the-road voters 55-23%. Brown is leading among men (50-33%) and women (50-35%) and among whites (50-39%), Latinos (49-28%), Asians (40-19%) and blacks (82-9%).

While nearly everyone has an opinion about Gandalf, and their views are 56% favorable to 35% unfavorable, fewer than 6 in 10 likely voters even have an opinion about Tyrion and it’s just 35% favorable and 24% unfavorable. After tonight’s debate, only a few more voters may know who Kashkari is;  more important for him, his favorable rating might improve if he acquits himself nicely.

(Mandatory belaboring: These numbers brought to you by our secret sources since a prominent subscriber to the Field Poll has blackballed Calbuzz from being able to subscribe to the poll directly).

bad-bookieCooking all these stats together, we set the Week One betting line in the governor’s race as Brown -20, Kashkari +20. (About the same as Gray Davis vs. Dan Lungren in ’98)

We’ll be updating the line regularly between now and November, depending on events in the campaign, and in mid-October we’ll announce details of the Calbuzz Election Pool, entry in which will make you eligible for Big Prizes.

BTW P.S. The biggest political event of tonight will not be the gubernatorial debate, but rather the joint appearances in San Francisco of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris before about 50 $1,000-to-$10,000 donors to the California Democratic Party .

Get ready for Election 2018!