Archive for the ‘Campaign Advertising’ Category



Secret Battle on Pinocchio Hat; Flash Nixes Tax Vote

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Now it can be told: At a crucial point in the race for governor, an internal campaign debate among Jerry Brown’s top advisers broke out over a hard-hitting TV ad that portrayed Republican rival Meg Whitman as Pinocchio, Calbuzz has learned.

The key tactical question at stake in the behind-the-scenes political battle: Whether or not to put a little yellow Tyrolean hat with a golden feather on top of eMeg’s head in the spot.

We’re not making this up.

In a wide-ranging investigation, our Department of High-Impact Probes and Overstuffed File Cabinets ferreted out the story via a series of confidential interviews with High-Powered Political Sources.

Because of the extreme sensitivity of the matter, Calbuzz scrupulously applied Bob Woodward’s rules for wide-ranging investigations, promising our sources anonymity in exchange for their pledges of candor, with the agreement that we would tell the story in the omniscient third-person voice, with direct quotations more or less aligned with reality.

Sources gave this account:

Shortly after Labor Day, Whitman unleashed an ad with Bill Clinton hitting Brown on his most vulnerable soft spot saying he was a tax-and-spend liberal who could not be trusted. Brown compounded the problem by insulting Clinton’s proclivities at a public event. But after Brown apologized to Clinton for his loose lips, Elvis put out a statement saying the charge he’d made in the 1992 debate clip Whitman was using was in fact based on an erroneous CNN report.

Newspapers, TV and radio outlets and online sites all reported that the Whitman ad was simply not true. But eMeg stood by the ad, arguing that it was accurate. Brown’s people needed to say Whitman was lying — in the nicest possible way, of course.

No Relation to Steve Glazer

Their consensus on how to answer, suggested by adman David Doak, was a 15-second spot that pictured eMeg as Pinocchio, with her nose growing during the ad to the size of a baseball bat, as a narrator recounted some of the lies she was telling about Brown.*

The ad was quickly produced by Joe Trippi’s shop with the enthusiastic endorsement of candidate Brown (who to this day never tires of claiming credit for it, or of confronting complete strangers to demand they tell him whether they saw it during the campaign) through the use of not-very-sophisticated graphics technology that made Meg’s nose get longer and longer.

Then the trouble began.

When the media team turned in the ad, alarm bells went off in the head of campaign manager Steve Glazer. He was deeply troubled by one crucial detail: was placing the little yellow hat on Meg’s head too demeaning to her?

Demeaning?” one source who liked the ad replied to Glazer’s question. “Steve, we’re making her nose grow four feet – how could it be more demeaning than that?”

Still, when Glazer’s concern was communicated to Brown and his wife, Anne Gust, Brown’s Oakland command ordered up another version of the spot that did not have the little hat on Meg’s head.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” one source thought to himself.

Nonetheless, alternative versions were produced, as the difficult question – hat or no hat – continued to divide Team Brown. Finally, a coast-to-coast conference call was convened, and the issue was put directly to Brown’s most senior media strategist.

“Do you think the hat is too demeaning?” he was asked.

Long seconds passed, while the fate of the entire Brown effort – along with the future of California – hung in the balance.

“No,” the Washington-based strategist said.

The rest is history.

The ad went on the air on September 14, and Meg’s negatives kept growing and growing, not unlike her Pinocchio nose, as Brown steadily built a lead. The most astonishing thing about the story may be that the Armies of Whitman did not issue a snarky statement about the hat — practically the only thing they didn’t whine about during the entire race.

* (For the record, the ad was actually kind of a rip-off of our oft-used Pinocchio-Meg graphic, not to mention totally derivative of a stock campaign ad that goes back to at least 1988).

Redeveloping redevelopment: Tom Meyer today nails the full-on absurdity of the outrage over the governor’s move to shutter the operations of local redevelopment agencies that’s being voiced by local political hacks and real estate developers across the state.

Armed with the new PPIC poll, which shows two-thirds of Californians agree with him on the issue, Brown is playing a strong political hand, notwithstanding the heavy breathing and harrumphing by a coalition of mayors who called on him this week to protest the long overdue bid to end the redevelopment scam of skimming property tax revenues for the purpose of empire building and skid greasing for way too many sleazy projects in which oleaginous developers and greedy politicians engage in mutual back scratching in an atmosphere of soft corruption.

Latest evidence of how we’ll all manage to do just fine without redevelopment’s ’50s- and ’60s-era land use theory and practice comes in a dandy piece by Jim Miller of the Press-Enterprise.

In an impressive display of Actual Reporting, Miller checked the mandated state reports filed by a batch of agencies and found they “list few, if any, jobs created and little in the way of new construction or building rehabilitation.” Best stuff: the hemming and hawing by officials desperate to explain away the story told by the very documents they filed themselves, including this gem from John Shirey, president of the (all rise) California Redevelopment Association:

Unfortunately, those reports often get filled out by finance people because most of the report is financial,” Shirey said. “Finance people, they’re not in sales. They don’t take advantage of the chance to put down accomplishments.

“If it doesn’t get picked up by the redevelopment staff, then you see what you see, which is a lot of blanks,” he said.

So we see.

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No-diversity university: Here’s how bad the sexism was at last weekend’s big Berkeley conference on the governor’s race: Even Calbuzz noticed.

Somewhere between the first panel, featuring eight white guys, and the final panel, featuring seven white guys, we took a demographic stroll through the lineups for all of the two days of presentations. Counting panelists and moderators, here are the stats:

31 men
5 women
34 white people
2 minorities

Apparently, we weren’t alone in raising our untrimmed eyebrows at the disconnect between the conference population and that of, you know,  California. Soon after the event ended, some pretty pissed off political women started posting this video on their Facebook pages, and it’s now careening far and wide across the internets.  More from the estimable Joe Garafoli.

Flash tells why Brown’s tax measure should not be on the ballot

In response to the post on Calbuzz last week arguing that lawmakers should place on the ballot Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend, for five years, certain tax increases that were passed in 2009, we asked our friend Jon Fleischman, editor and publisher of the conservative FlashReport (whom we likened to a feudal yeoman), to present the other side. Here’s his argument.

The main reason why legislators should not put a tax increase measure on the ballot is that raising taxes is a bad idea, and the idea of placing a measure before voters in essence plays “kick the can” for four or five months, when problems should be addressed now.

Based on the fact that voters rejected the last seven tax-increase measures before them, and in fact rejected these exact tax increases (but for a shorter duration) in a 2009 special election, the Legislature should not be going to the public again. This is a democratic republic, and our elected representatives should do their jobs.

It is also important to look at the politics of a special election on raising taxes. The reality is that all of the various special interest groups (with the state’s cash-heavy public employee unions at the front of the line) will spend literally tens of millions of dollars to influence voters.

It will be a full-scale effort to use any means possible to connive overtaxed Californians into taxing themselves even more. Unfortunately the ability of taxpayer protection groups to raise the kinds of funds it takes to seriously debunk the landslide of misleading ads is very limited. That is why it is critical to hold the line against a ballot measure at all costs.

An additional consideration for Republican legislators is that after seven years of Arnold Schwarzenegger being the top Republican in the state (we saw some of the effects of the impact of that this last November), we need to restore the brand name of the Grand Old Party. Once a party that voters knew would oppose higher taxes, now that message is unclear. Nothing could be more damaging to a party trying to regain relevance that to abandon such a core issue.

You can be absolutely certain that a well-financed campaign for those tax increases on a special election ballot would make a huge deal over the “bi-partisan cooperation” to place the tax increase before voters. It would completely undermine the ability of the minority party to make the case for making a change in who is in charge of the Capitol.

If the left wants the public to vote on higher taxes, they can qualify a ballot measure (the unions can do that with just a fraction of their campaign funds). But at least if they go that route, it will be made clear to voters that Republicans had no part in it.

Final Thoughts on IGS 2010 Gov Race Conference

Monday, January 24th, 2011

In the end, the weekend conference on California’s just-concluded campaign for governor looked a lot like the race itself: Meg Whitman refused to talk to an audience not of her choosing, got trashed for it and ended up the biggest loser for her selfish and self-absorbed behavior.

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies confab, held every four years, drew its largest crowd ever, an eclectic collection of media and political hacks, earnest students and academic chrome domes, professional pollsters and political wannabes, all drawn by the opportunity to hear, first-hand from the operatives who ran the campaigns, the inside story of how the deal went down.

Beyond its sheer entertainment value for an audience of obsessed political junkies, the conference in the past also served the more serious purpose of establishing a permanent record of the process by which Californians chose their chief executive, an important resource for scholars, authors and journalists. But the 2011 version was unfortunately flawed by two big shortcomings:

First, not a single member of the mighty Legions of eMeg had the courage, concern for history, not to mention common courtesy, to show his or her face; despite heroic efforts to represent the Republican perspective by top-rank GOP pols who didn’t work on the campaign (about whom more later) this left a huge hole in the record, given that Herself and Her Money, in many ways, became the story of the campaign.

Second, there was way too much spin and way too little candor by too many of those who did participate – an unfortunate departure from past years, which will leave a distorted and incomplete record of what was one of the most important campaigns in recent decades: “It just wasn’t the real story of the campaign,” one prominent political scientist complained at a post-conference reception. (Suggested reading for future scholars: this and this.)

That said, there still was value in the event, even if it was often to be found in the bar of the Hotel Shattuck Plaza and around the tables of nearby Berkeley restaurants, where war stories and unvarnished opinions were more frequently to be found. Some observations:

Most Valuable Player – The MVP of the conference was Jim Bognet, manager of Steve Poizner’s losing GOP primary effort. Funny, smart and honest, Bognet offered a sense of what it was like day-after-day to go up against a rival funded by $180 million (Meg’s spending “created its own center of gravity”) and displayed how personal the battle got between the Republicans (“never was so much spent on so many for so little”). He also provided – in the form of advice to students in the room thinking about going into politics — the best single riff of the weekend, defining the ethical rot at the center of Team Whitman that led to the most expensive disaster in the history of American politics:

When you’re getting paid a lot of money – and there were many consultants in this race that got paid a lot of money – it gives you an incentive not to speak truth to power. It gives you an incentive not to tell them what they don’t want to hear as candidates. You are more valuable as a campaign staffer and as a human being if you’re willing to say to the person who is paying your paycheck, “You are wrong. You need to talk to the press. You need to go out and answer these questions. You need to answer for why you switched your position.” It is a conflict of interest because the same person that is paying you, you have to give hard advice and talk about things, personal things that are not comfortable to talk about. So I would say, you have to fight against that continuously in order to add value to your candidate.

Least Valuable Player – The LVP of the conference was Peter Ragone, representing Gavin Newsom’s short and stunted primary bid for governor. Ragone is a nice guy and a competent operative, but his endless, obviously phony spin on behalf of the new Lite Governor had the audience groaning and looking for barf bags.

Newsom, it seems, is a politician of uncommon moral courage, motivated by only two idealistic factors – his unstinting and unselfish determination to do what is right and true and good for all the rest of us (after trashing the office of lieutenant governor, he changed his mind and ran because “he decided this was where he could the most good”) and the high moral courage that drives him to put his family above all else (no mention of him boinking the wife of his chief of staff in the mayor’s office). Self-interest never figures into it, Ragone would have us believe. Enough to make a hog puke. No matter what new UC Regent Newsom wanted, IGS should have invited Garry South and Nick Clemons, his actual gubernatorial campaign directors.

The missing characters –  The transcript of the proceedings will be turned into a book which purportedly will serve as the final word on the governor’s race. Puh-leeze. Consider this: the three most important behind-the-scenes players in the race – Brown’s wife Anne Gust, Whitman major domo Henry Gomez and top strategist Mike Murphy – didn’t figure in any of the discussions and, unless we missed it during a trip to the head or the cookie table, their names were never even mentioned. That’s like doing Hamlet without Hamlet.

Kudos to the stand-ins. While eMeg’s minions cowered in fear far away from Berkeley, former state chairmen Duf Sundheim and Bob Naylor, along with veteran strategist Jim Brulte, did a terrific job of describing the GOP perspective, their limited contacts with the candidate and her turf-conscious consultants, and how the establishment watched in horror as Whitman melted down.

“As Republicans, we were really concerned as the primary went on because since they were so close on the issues, it was really going to come down to a very nasty, personal fight,” Sundheim said. Said Naylor: “When the dust settled in the primary, the Whitman campaign was over.” And Brulte, who with his commentary reaffirmed his position as the sharpest Republican mind in the state, observed that except for Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger – celebrities who transcended politics – California voters have always wanted  an experienced hand as governor. By spending so much money on television without a break, Whitman undercut her own ability to be the next best thing, he argued. “By Labor Day, Jerry Brown, who was governor when I was in high school, was the fresh new face.”

Message trumps money – Since we’re kvetching about others for a lack of self-criticism, Calbuzz should acknowledge that our own coverage may have suffered from putting too much focus on the extraordinary spectacle of Meg’s crazed spending, which at times led us to the misassumption that she could make up for her lack of a clear and consistent winning message by throwing money at the problem.

“I never understood it,” said Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman. “Every time you turned on the TV, there were four or five tracks of (Whitman) ads that were completely different. They were switching ads all the time. You had no idea what their strategy was and never had anyone explain it to me.”  The Whitman campaign never had a compelling message, agreed consultant Rick Claussen: “Tactics is just a way to talk to voters.” You can spend all you want reaching out to voters, but if you don’t have something worth listening to, it’s a huge waste of money.

Brown was both lucky and good – In the final session of the conference, Brulte put his partisan perspective aside and offered his bottom line: Brown “ran a picture perfect campaign,” he said, a strategy built on keeping its focus on fundraising, using the office of Attorney General to keep him in the news and steering their own course no matter how much the winds emanating from Camp Whitman tried to blow them off course.

In Jim Moore, Brown had the best pollster in the race, the best ad man in Joe Trippi and the most disciplined manager in Glazer; their game plan to hold their fire until Labor Day, while many top Democrats and the political peanut gallery were hollering for them to answer eMeg’s summer assault, made all the difference. But Brown’s strategists also admitted that they benefited from missteps by eMeg. Said Glazer:

The one worry that I had when we went through that (2009) fall period into the new year was that Meg Whitman was going to use her resources to use Jerry Brown as the foil to be a stronger Republican . . . I thought that she would — even before the new year struck — that she would start to use Jerry Brown and start to raise our negatives by running against us as the presumptive Republican nominee. And I expected that all the way through until the primary day. I was very surprised that that actually never happened.

Once the primary was over, Trippi’s greatest fear was that Whitman would “go dark” over the summer, giving voters a respite from her 24/7 invasion of their living rooms and allowing her to re-emerge as a fresh face in the fall. Instead she essentially turned herself into the incumbent in a year when voters wanted change.

As Bognet had put it earlier: “She built herself a $180 million brand. Unfortunately, by the time the general came around her brand was, ‘She’s the woman with the money who won’t get off my TV.’”

Panelists also agreed that Whitman made a huge error by trying to portray Brown as a traditional tax and spend liberal, which simply misstates his record. As Republican Naylor, who served in the Assembly during Brown’s first turn as governor, put it: “Tax and spend doesn’t stick with Jerry Brown.”

Tone matters – Trippi correctly observed that the relentlessly snarky tone of Whitman’s relentless attack ads didn’t resonate with voters – “failure has followed him everywhere” he intoned — because they have a much more complex and long-running, if not always fond, relationship with him. Better for the Whitman people, Trippi said, to have been respectful to Brown by crafting a  more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger “gold watch” message, saying that he had performed valuable service to the state but adding that it was simply time for him to go, and to elect a “governor for the 21st century.”

Trying to avoid the press was a huge blunder — Speaker after speaker pointed to Whitman’s strategy of stiffing the media as a costly error for several reasons: it sent a message to voters that she thought she was too good to go through the usual hoops candidates for high office have always faced; it established a narrative that Whitman was secretive, and must have something to hide; it was a clear affront to the working press of the state, and their frustration showed up in the stories. As Poizner’s Jarrod Agen put it: “It never works to avoid the press.”

Bill Lockyer is the Diogenes of state politics — California’s treasurer was the keynote speaker of the conference and he turned in a boffo performance that provided a full-on and utterly frank look at the state of the state’s finances. Ask Lockyer what time it is and he’s liable to tell you how to make a watch, so some of his discourse on the niceties of the municipal bond market were a bit windy, but he’s smart, funny and seen it all. We’ll be running the text of his speech later this week.

Worst advice – The model for a California GOP comeback is Chris Christie in New Jersey, said Republican Tony Quinn. Sustained attacks on public employee unions and bloated government are the key to victory, he said. When Calbuzz rose to note that Whitman had done exactly that, he replied that she hadn’t done it very well.

Immigration sunk Whitman – Even before Meg’s Nicky Diaz housekeeper scandal, the immigration issue was a huge problem for Whitman. As Glazer explained, she had many liabilities on the issue even without Nicky – from shifting positions on a path to citizenship to her opposition to the Dream Act. Poizner’s hardline position in the primary forced her to move far right, which made her efforts to get back to the center in the general look pathetically calculated. When the Nicky story erupted, it merely personalized the hypocrisy and brazen opportunism of her political stances.

As Poizner’s Agen explained:

If we’d gotten into the general, it would have been a policy debate between Steve and Governor Brown on the policy issue of immigration. Jerry Brown would have had one stance on immigration, Steve would have had the other. But it would have been a policy discussion on immigration . . . What ended up happening, though, was immigration turned into a character issue and that is what ultimately hurts the Republican Party hugely is if immigration is a character issue. If it stays a policy issue, people are going to disagree with it and we felt that if you get to the general election, we’ll have it out, we’ll have that debate with Jerry on immigration, we’ll see how people, where people stand.

Best line – The strategists were asked at one point to name one thing they would have done that they didn’t do. “Telephone operational training,” said Glazer, a big laugh reference to Brown’s failure to hang up the phone when leaving a message with a law enforcement union, which led to the flap over someone in Brown headquarters (hello, Anne) referring to eMeg as a political “whore.”

Best fights – Field Pollster Mark Dicamillo ripped off the face of robopollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA (in the nicest possible way), who responded with a furious defense of his methodology, a screed that included some whacks at Calbuzz. The Cage Match of the pollsters was only matched for excitement when Democratic operative Bob Mulholland and Tony Quinn got into a finger-pointing duel about the rules and political significance of the new “top two” primary system. Talk about don’t-invite-ems.

The new Whig party — A number of speakers at the conference strongly argued that the California Republican party is essentially dead. Brulte for one said there was no way Whitman could have won the race because of the structural and demographic political landscape of the state, while Sundheim said “Republicans, as a brand, are dead.” Speaker after speaker noted how the Republican hostility to Latinos and other minorities, coupled with tired messaging that has nothing for younger voters, has made them an isolated and marginal party of old white people. Most seemed to have read and adopted the Calbuzz Memo to CA GOP: Time to Do Something Different.

Speaking of Whigs — Sacramento consultant Ray McNally, proving that there’s not much new in American politics, read from an 1840 confidential memo written by Abraham Lincoln that laid out a complete organizing strategy for the “overthrow of the corrupt powers that now control our beloved country,” which included everything from polling and GOTV to voter contact and fundraising. Example: “3) It will also be their duty to report to you, at least once a month, the progress they are making, and on election days see that every Whig is brought to the polls.” You can read it here.

The two minds of the voters – Political scientist Kim Nalder from Sac State honed in on the most fundamental factor driving state politics today: the disconnect that voters feel between demanding high levels of service and their determination not to pay taxes. Lockyer underscored a Calbuzz report that voters think 48% of the money the state spends is wasted –  a high hurdle for Brown to overcome if he is to sell his cuts-and-taxes budget plan to fix the state’s $28 billion budget shortfall.

Deep thoughts: Thad Kousser of UC San Diego made some points that cut against the notion that California is forever blue (an argument that effectively lets the Armies of eMeg off the hook). A panel of political scientists agreed that “campaign effects” are marginal – but that marginal effects matter big time in close races, so the Whitman-Brown race could have been close – “Nothing was inevitable in this campaign.” And a note to future mega-spending candidates: “Campaigns can’t tell voters what to think, but they can tell them what to think about.”

Nice work — There were too many journalists from the LA Times on the program (although we were wrong to say two of the three didn’t cover the governor’s race: only one did not) and not enough from other major papers or news agencies. But the four who participated — Mark Barabak, Cathy Decker and Anthony York of the Times, and Timm Herdt of the Ventura County Star — did a fine job of moving the conversation along.

Here’s to 2010: The Top 10 Stories of the Year

Friday, December 31st, 2010

As Tom Meyer presents his right brain look back at the political detritus of 2010, the left progressive brain types in our Department of Belles-Lettres and Fine Writing Done Cheap wish you all the best for a new decade with this update of our annual New Year’s column:

The hoariest cliché in the news business – besides  Where Are They Now, the Irrelevant Anniversary yarn and frying an egg on the sidewalk during a heat wave – is the end-of-year Top 10 list.

And at Calbuzz, we’re nothing if not hoary clichés. Or maybe clichéd whores. Whatever.

As you find yourself face down in a bowl of gelatinous guacamole on New Year’s morn, trying to remember why you’re wearing rubber underwear and Raider wrist bands, here’s some bathroom reading, the Calbuzz Top 10 stories of the year, a 2011 primer for those who got drunk and missed 2010.

(Click the cartoon  for a larger image)

GOP awakens the sleeping giant. From Steve Poizner’s demagoguery on illegal immigration  to Meg Whitman’s serial mishandling of her own housekeeper scandal, Republicans worked overtime in the 2010 campaigns to alienate Latino voters throughout California. In the end, their no-path-to-citizenship kow-towing to the right-wing  proved an utter disaster, as Democrats reaped big totals among the state’s increasingly crucial electoral bloc, which represented nearly one in four votes on election day.

eMeg’s secret diary. When a slow news day spurred our fervid imaginations to post a spoof version of Meg Whitman’s private thoughts, we had no way of knowing that it would become a case study of life in imitation of art. But her real-life treatment of the help, coupled with her corner-cutting business ethics and rules-don’t apply to me campaign style combined to transform the race for governor into a referendum on her character, which voters decided they didn’t much like.

The triumph of St. Ignatius. When a national political reporter asked Jerry Brown early in the campaign how he would deal with eMeg’s mega-bucks spending, the governor drew deeply upon his Catholic  education and sniffed that he would respond with “Ignatian indifference.” His subsequent decision  to essentially ignore Whitman’s summer-long assault on him, along with the aid of some independent expenditure advertising by labor allies, made Saint Iggie look like a genius as Krusty wrote yet another new chapter in the half-century saga of his political evolution.

Scientists measure standard quantum limit of money. Along with the rest of the political world, Calbuzz watched in endless fascination as Her Megness shattered all previous records for a self-funded candidate; desperate for a metaphor to help measure its ultimate impact, we turned to the field of theoretical physics. When the deal went down, Herself forked out more than $200K every 24 hours for every day she was in the race, and the only ones who had much to show for it were the vast legions of consultants and hangers-on who took her to the cleaners.

California’s got the blues. In a mid-term election when national Republicans opened an extra-large can of wupass on Democrats, contrary Golden State voters proved solid gold for the party of donkeys and jackasses. Amid waves of wise and well-intentioned advice on what they might do differently, state GOPers decided to double down on idiocy as they shunned candidates who might actually be electable and turned Senate wannabe Carly Fiorina into an angry, snarling parody of a right-winger mouthing political stands more befitting the state of Utah and proving anew  that ideology is more important to Californians than gender.

Truth, no consequences. After death panels, the birther movement and the consistently sensational ratings of Fox News, we shouldn’t have been surprised that California’s airwaves filled to bursting with misrepresentations, half-truths and lies. Naifs that we are, it took a while to understand that we were witnessing nothing less than the death of truth in politics.

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass. There were few better examples of the truth-is-always-fungible politics than Governor Schwarzmuscle’s endless exertions aimed at portraying his years in office as an era of splendid success. In case you missed our in-depth one-word analysis of his record – FAIL – you can find more dispassionate and detailed, but no less damning, takes on the matter here, and here.

Tree huggers ascendant. Amid 12+ % unemployment in the state, some cynical smokestack types tried to reignite the economic growth vs.  environmental protection conflict. California voters not only saw through the either-or argument on climate change but also broke off their brief flirtation with offshore oil drilling after the Earth Day Deepwater Horizon disaster led Arnold to abandon his ill-laid plans to award the first state lease in more than 40 years.

Reform on life support. Amid a trove of smart proposals for political, governance and budget reform,  all the good ideas went exactly nowhere. Fueled by corporate cynicism, the contradictory views of voters and the steady transformation of democracy into a plutocracy the forces of the status quo won out yet again.

ABC: Always Believe Calbuzz. Reporting more than 3 million page views in 2010, an analysis by our Department of Weights and Measures advises that along with the heavily-hyphenated-meat-and-potatoes-sizzle-and-steak-cheeseburger-and-fries-day-in-day-out political coverage our readers look for, loyal Calbuzzers also count on our special-brand-of-journalism-you-won’t-find-it-anywhere-but-here-world-exclusive scoops, whether it’s the inside story of Jerry Brown’s secret eyebrow makeover, prize winning reporting on John Burton’s foul mouth or world-class forecasting on Major League Baseball (Giants win!).

With all best wishes for a happy and safe amateur night celebration, we thank you all for reading. See you in 2011.

Team eMeg Grabs the Green, Proves They’re Yellow

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Not since Vice President Dick Cheney hid out in the “secret” bunker under the old U.S. Naval Observatory following the attacks of 9/11 have we seen an act of political cowardice as brazen as the announced refusal by Meg Whitman’s lavishly paid loser consultants to show up at the upcoming post-election debriefing sponsored by the Institute of Governmental Studies at Berkeley.

Well, maybe that’s unfair to Cheney. He had an excuse: the military and Secret Service insisted on protecting the chain of command in the face of uncertainty.

But Henry Gomez, Mike Murphy, Rob Stutzman, Jeff Randle, Mitch Zak, Jilian Hasner, Tucker Bounds and Sarah Pompei have no such excuse. Especially our friend Murph, who was paid a $1 million signing bonus (masquerading as an investment in his film company) and $60,000 a month, plus what else we’ll know when the final financial report is released.

“I don’t think we’re going to go,” Stutzman told the L.A. Times. “It’s self-indulgent, by self-important scholars and journalists. It is what it is.”

No, this is what it is: the logical extension of eMeg’s infamous statement to her housekeeper, Nicky Diaz: “You don’t know me and I don’t know you.” Chickenshit, dismissive arrogance.

Since its inception after the 1990 campaign, IGS “has brought together the state’s politicos after each gubernatorial election,” wrote Ethan Rarick in the preface to the book on the 2006 conference. “At the center of the conference are the consultants and staff members who ran the major campaigns, but the event also draws the state’s most involved and observant pollsters, political journalists and political scientists. For two days, the Berkeley campus becomes the center of the state’s political universe, a hotbed of debate and discussion about California and its voters.

“The sessions – open to the public and on the record – are videotaped, and the transcript is then edited into a readable and cohesive form. Published as a book, the conference proceedings serve as the principal historical record of California gubernatorial campaigns.”

Never before has a major campaign failed to represent itself at the conference. Moreover, the 2010 governor’s race – with eMeg’s unprecedented spending (we expect it’ll tilt the scales at $180 million, when all is said and done) – cries out to be studied, dissected, analyzed and understood.

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s team will be there. That will be worthwhile. But truth be told, Steve Glazer, Sterling Clifford, Anne Gust Brown, Jim Moore, Joe Trippi and Krusty the General himself, all were pretty damn accessible and transparent during the campaign. If you had a question about strategy, tactics, intentions, fundraising, polling, whatever, they held back very little.

Maybe they’ll come clean about who called Whitman a “whore” for trading pension benefits for the support of police groups. (Although we guessed it was Anne and tried unsuccessfully to get her to break the news to us.) But we don’t expect to hear a lot of insider details that will alter how we saw their campaign unfold.

Team Whitman, on the other hand, was the most self-important, impenetrable political death star we’ve ever encountered in California politics. And that includes the fact that at least one of your Calbuzzers was frozen out in 1998 by the Al Checchi campaign altogether after writing the (unchallenged) history of his (mis)management of Northwest Airlines.

“It’s amazing to me that somebody [Murphy] would do five minutes on a national television program [Meet the Press] but won’t go back and forth with the California political writers,” said Democrat Roger Salazar, who managed the independent committee California Working Families for Jerry Brown. “Not showing up at one of the most respected forums in California politics is cowardly. You’d think that $60,000 a month would buy you some guts.”

Gomez has no history in California politics. He was eMeg’s lapdog at eBay and was her No. 1 horse whisperer during the race. But Murphy, the longtime strategist who put presidential would-be Lamar Alexander in a Pendleton back in 1996, was the chief political professional in the Armies of eMeg – the only one who had private time with Whitman in the backstage green rooms at all three debates, for example.

He’s not talking about his reasons for not showing up. Which leaves Stutzman as the next most senior strategist to comment. “There’s a lot of things people are going to ask that we’re never going to disclose — and that are none of their business,” he told the S.F. Chronicle the other day.

In other words: fuck you, you fucking fucks.

The Team Whitman principals deny they have non-disclosure agreements that are keeping them from discussing the internal workings of the campaign (although their agreements could require them to deny they exist). Which suggests their refusal really is just about cowardice and arrogance.

Frankly, we don’t get it. It would be in Team Whitman’s interest to justify their decisions and defend their performance. Otherwise, the journalists, scholars and politicos will have to depend on Whitman’s opponents and neutral analysts to explain:

– Why the best they could do — with unprecedented campaign resources, a raging pro-Republican year and a retread 72-year-old opponent – was 10 points more than GOP registration.
– What were their strategic and tactical goals at various points throughout the campaign? How did they craft their messages? What data did they rely on?
– Who knew what and when about Nicky Diaz? What was their initial plan to deal with Whitman’s lack of a voting history? Why did they decide not to emphasize her family?
– How did they intend to overcome the Democratic registration advantage? What did they think Brown’s greatest weaknesses were? Why could they never sustain a message about the issues? What was the effect of the independent expenditure campaigns against Whitman during the summer?
– Who made the decision to shield Whitman from California political writers? What happened to their much-vaunted voter-targeting strategy? How much of their media experimentation was just a test run for future clients? How come they couldn’t help any other Republican candidates?

These are just a few of the questions Team eMeg won’t be answering anytime soon. But Rarick, who runs the program at IGS, is holding out hope that the Whitman campaign will be represented.

“We would be delighted if Ms. Whitman wants to attend personally. I was surprised to see Rob Stutzman quoted on the Chronicle’s blog to the effect that Ms. Whitman was not consulted on the decision to skip the conference,” he told us in an email. “I think it is incumbent upon us to make every possible effort to allow the Whitman campaign to defend itself, and thus although candidates do not normally participate directly in this conference, we have reached out this morning and invited Ms. Whitman to attend personally and participate on the panels. We’d be delighted if she would like to attend.”

As for Calbuzz, we’d still like to have dinner with Meg.

Calbuzz: The Next Generation – Plus Some Classics

Friday, November 26th, 2010

A world leader in innovative management techniques, team-based new product strategies and future-focused organizational learning, Calbuzz Corporate is all about best practices business operations.

Consistent with that philosophy, our Department of Succession Planning and Forced Geezer Retirements today introduces Braeden Max Vegter (left) Benson Parker James Guron (below), executive vice-presidents in training and the most recently born key players in our Calbuzz 2050 Plan.

As we hunker down at our annual corporate retreat for some intensive staff mentoring and coaching, here’s a holiday offering of a couple of Calbuzz Classics, some prescient posts from one year ago that forecast outcomes for some of the biggest political stories of 2010:

Why iCarly Lost the Senate Race: On November 27, 2009 we took an early look at Carly Fiorina’s GOP bid for Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat, and took note of what would become a chronic problem for her – hoof in mouth disease. We also reported a major bonehead play that ranked right up there with Meg Whitman’s refusal to accept our invitation to dinner and doomed the Fiorina candidacy from the start:

“Two old white guys left standing at the altar: So Carly Fiorina was scheduled to call Calbuzz for an interview Monday, but her handlers stiffed us at the last minute with a murky explanation about some supposedly late-breaking, double secret probation type emergency development thingie.

We were pleased to see, however, that iCarly was not so in distress that she bypassed a Beltway breakfast session with the crew of the conservative American Spectator.  Philip Klein’s post on the affair is well worth reading, if only for the challenge of trying to follow the rococo twists and turns of her extended riff on abortion rights.

On other issues, primary foe Chuck DeVore, R-Sirloin, jumped all over her statement that she would have voted for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, while Mrs. Chuck tweeted exception to Fiorina’s comment that she’s a stronger GOP bet by virtue of not being “a white male.”

Asked why she is a better candidate than her Republican primary opponent Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Calif.), Fiorina said that a woman stands a better chance of defeating Boxer.

“With all due respect and deep affection for white men – I’m married to one – but (Barbara Boxer) knows how to beat them. She’s done it over and over and over again.” Uh, really?

Among those who might take offense at her comment are:

1-The entire base of the California Republican Party.
2-Michelle Malkin, shrill harridan of the GOP’s Glenn Beck wing, who bashed
her
for an “identity-politics driven campaign.”
3- Matt Fong, the former state controller who lost to Boxer in 1998 and is decidedly not a white male.

To summarize: Hurricane Carly would have been better off calling us.”

Murphy enters the fray: On November 24, 2009, Calbuzz scooped the world by being the first to report that Big Foot Republican consultant Mike Murphy was joining the already crowded ranks of operatives in the Legions of eMeg:

“Mike Murphy, the blunt-spoken, sharp-tongued, smart aleck Republican strategist who has advised such clients as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, is joining Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor, two reliable sources told Calbuzz.

Whitman, who has already spent more than $20 milllion, decided to shake up her campaign on  Friday, Nov. 13, one source told us, and add  another layer to her consultant-rich organization.”

BTW: There’s a rumor afoot that Murph won’t be showing up to participate in the quadrennial deconstruction of the governor and senate races sponsored at Berkeley by the Institute of Governmental Studies, this time Jan. 21-22, 2011.

This event is a junkie’s delight, as top campaign operatives and pollsters shed light on how the campaigns looked from the inside.  Murphy’s non-appearance is just a rumor, at this point, as Ethan Rarick, the point man at IGS, says he can neither confirm or deny the buzz. Calbuzz strongly urges Murphy to NOT be the first major consultant to duck the important retrospective.

What it all meant: A day later, we examined what the hiring of Murphy was likely to mean strategically to Her Megness, taking a look at both the risks and opportunities of the big move. Things played out pretty much as we foresaw with one key exception: it appears that in the inside game, Murphy never gained the upper hand over longtime Whitman sycophant Henry Gomez, whose clout with the candidate, coupled with his utter ineptitude, likely spelled failure for the obscenely expensive campaign from the start:

“Despite their partisan differences, count Democratic consultant Garry South, the party’s Duke of Darkness, as one of Republican strategist Mike Murphy’s fans: ‘He’s a great guy – one of the funniest and smartest people I know in politics. He brings a centrist perspective that befits the political climate in California pretty well.’

But South – who was S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s consultant in the governor’s race until the Prince dropped out last month – also warned that by bringing Murphy into her campaign, Meg Whitman runs the risk that afflicts most wealthy candidates in California (viz: Simon, Bill and Checchi, Al).

‘Having more consultants doesn’t necessarily mean a better campaign,” he added. “They put together these big campaigns but they don’t know who to listen to and there’s sometimes warring camps that take hold inside and give the candidates conflicting advice.’

As word spread, in the wake of our Tuesday post, that Whitman had brought Murphy into her campaign, insiders saw both opportunities and risks in the move, balancing the high-profile consultant’s talent for messaging and strategy against his take-no-prisoners style, which can be aimed both at his candidate’s rival – as well as his own rivals within the c

One Republican strategist who has worked with Murphy described his greatest value to Whitman this way: ‘He’s somebody with actual political experience and the stature to push back on the candidate and her non-political advisers when it’s necessary.’

While it appears that Whitman crony Henry Gomez, her former eBay colleague and closest adviser, was the one who reached out to Murphy, his presence in the campaign will also assure that ‘When Henry has an idea that’s dumb, there’s someone who can call him on it,’ the source said.

Like many business executives, Whitman has a low regard for political professionals, several sources said;  for this reason, she needs a strategist who is not intimidated by her, “someone who can get into her face and say ‘This is what we have to do,’” as one operative put it…

Murphy has a reputation for being disorganized, disheveled and sometimes difficult to get engaged. ‘“Organization is not his forte,’ said a former GOP colleague…

Murphy is said to have been genuinely impressed with Whitman’s leadership skills and – no doubt – her ability to pay whatever fee he’ll be charging for his strategic and message advice. ‘Fortunately, this is the type of campaign that has the luxury to keep adding talent,’ said one operative.”

Now that’s the understatement of 2009.