Quantcast

Archive for the ‘Campaign Contributions’ Category



GOP Fail: Meyer, Oprah and Voter Orgasms in Spain

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

In a week when the flimsy line between politics and entertainment grew teenier than ever, Calbuzz cartoonist Tom Meyer offers some sage strategic advice to California Republicans, who are desperate to gain support among women and Latinos – two crucial groups whose strong Democratic ties help explain why the Golden State grew bluer than ever in the year of the GOP’s red tide.

While Oprah has been broadcast in Spanish for more than two years now,  the big brains running the California Republican Party apparently haven’t gotten the memo, as GOP state chairman Ron Nehring blames his party’s pathetic statewide showing on a failure of “communications” in “brand” marketing.

“The leadership is brain-dead,” countered longtime Republican operative Tony Quinn, in a somewhat more succinct analysis offered to the Sacbee’s ubiquitous Jack Chang. “The demographic problem is Republicans have become a party of old white people, and these are people who really want an idealistic view such as what they think existed in California 50 years ago.”

Despite Neanderthal Nehring’s argument that the state GOP just needs to do a better job of advertising the popularity of their ideas among the Fred Flinstone cohort, the latest data from the L.A, Times/USC poll (see here here and here ) strongly suggests otherwise, as the always-worth-reading Cathleen Decker reported: “The party faces a critical collision between its own voters, a minority in California, and those it needs to attract to win.”

So in grateful return for that non-stop flood of “ICYMI” memos the state GOP sent our way in 2010, here’s a Calbuzz version backatcha.


Fun with numbers: In prize-winning fashion, Jerry Brown never tired of reminding voters that Meg Whitman’s not-very-original definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

But you gotta’ hand to Her Megness for persistence: she never let her own clichés stand in the way of her crazed and delusional determination that she could be elected governor if she just kept tossing good money after bad; our gal pitched a last-gasp $2.6 million of pin money into her campaign on election day, bringing the personal megabucks investment in her one-for-the-history books Really Big Fail to $144,155,806.11.

Putting aside the $30 million or so in chump change she raised from fellow plutocrats, that works out to an average of $228,460.86 per day — $9,519.20 per hour, $158.60 per minute and $2.64 per second – 24/7, each and every one of the 631 days she was in the race. (The final final numbers, still not available, will make for some really impressive gee whiz computations.)

If that seems a bit…excessive…consider this: as a political matter, the net effect of the money was to win Whitman 41% of the statewide vote total; that’s only 10% above the Republican 31% share of statewide registration – or $14 million per percentage point above the base vote she would have won if she hadn’t spent a penny.

For comparison’s sake, the GOP candidates for Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner, none of whom had bupkus to spend, averaged 37% of the statewide vote, meaning all of eMeg’s loot basically  bought her an extra 4% of the vote – or $35 million per percentage point.

Oh well. From what we hear, at least the checks cleared for all of the brilliant strategists and consultants who fleeced her rode the gravy train while it lasted. God, we miss her already.

For those keeping score at home: When she writes her next self-serving memoir – “The Power of Money”? – at least eMeg will have the satisfaction of letting readers know that, despite shattering all records for most dollars spent on a political race in the U.S. ,the $57 per vote she forked out was peanuts compared to the $97 that World Wrestling Entertainment crotch kicker CEO Linda McMahon lavished on each Nutmegger who cast a ballot for her losing Republican bid for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut.

And as long as we’re talking mondo money, it’s worth noting that the biggest single spender on the initiative side of the ballot wasn’t the CTA, the CCPOA or the California Chamber of Commerce; as Tracey Kaplan reports in a nice Murky News piece, that honor goes to Charles T. Munger, Jr., a Stanford physics geek who tossed $12.6 million of his own fortune into Proposition 20, the measure taking away from the legislature the power to draw new lines for congressional seats and giving it to an independent reapportionment commission.

“You need to go into the world and do something that’s needed,” said Munger, 54. “So I gave California fair elections. I gave the voters back their democracy.”

Of course, the big difference between Munger and Whitman is that he, you know, won.

Memo to Ron Nehring (eyes only): Maybe this approach might work with women voters next time around.  Seems consistent with that whole “personal liberty” thing, anyway.

Five Key Reasons Brown Won Election as Governor

Friday, November 5th, 2010

One day back in July, Steve Glazer sighed heavily as he explained yet again why Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor was not responding to the barrages of TV ad attacks that Republican rival Meg Whitman kept firing at them.

Glazer, Brown’s unflappable but sharp-tongued manager, had just read yet another quote from a Democratic political professional, arguing that if the Attorney General did not begin to answer Whitman’s summer-long assault with TV advertising, he would fall fatally behind her by September, and never be able to catch up – the fate that befell Democrats Phil Angelides and Kathleen Brown in earlier contests.

“Every day we have to decide,” Glazer told Calbuzz, “if what they’re saying about Jerry is hurting us enough to cause us to have to go up on their air. So far, nothing they’ve thrown at us has caused us to change our plan.”

The Brown campaign’s daily refusal to be drawn into a no-win air war with Whitman in the three months after the June primary, despite near panic among his supporters, turned out to be the most crucial, high-risk strategic choice of the long campaign.

By practicing what Calbuzz dubbed political rope-a-dope back on October 1, 2009, the attorney general — assisted by an $8 million summertime assault on Whitman by labor –entered the fall campaign with an advertising budget that was comparable, if not equal, to the Armies of eMeg. Then, with his wiles, grit and shrewd political instincts, Krusty beat her like a drum.

Brown offered his own analysis Wednesday morning at a post-election press conference in Oakland.

“It’s very fortunate when I had no primary opposition.  It’s also very unfortunate for Ms. Whitman that she had serious primary opposition. Those two right there sets the stage. And then thirdly, there’s more Democrats than Republicans, and we have somewhat mildly liberal-leaning decline to state voters.

“And then, of course,” he added with a grin, “you have my sparkling personality.”

Here are the five keys to Brown’s victory:

-He kept his powder dry until fall. Brown’s fund-raising potential was a big reason that he didn’t face any opposition in the Democratic primary; newly elected Lite Gov. Gavin Newsom abandoned a challenge to Brown in part because he said the AG had frozen contributions from many party backers. And, in any other year, Brown’s fund-raising for the governor’s race would have been impressive, if not prohibitive: by the time he won his no-opposition primary, he had raised $23 million. And would bring in at least another $10 million before the deal was done.

But none of that mattered in the race against Whitman, the billionaire who had vowed to spend whatever it took to win. (Just a little presumptuously, the woman who hadn’t voted for 28 years, declared: “I refuse to let California fail”). She had both the resources and the will to try to make that strategy work. The $160+ million that she ended up spending – most of it her own money – was almost incomprehensible and, by the end, she had eclipsed by far any candidate’s spending on any non-presidential race in the nation’s history.

Looking back, Brown had little choice but to husband his resources. But under the unrelenting pressure of Whitman’s assault, it would have been easy to blink and to begin putting at least some ads up — as even some of his closest advisers had urged. Such a move would have proved fatal because, no matter how much money Brown put into such an effort, she always would have had more.

Mike Murphy, Rob Stutzman and other field marshals in the Armies of eMeg were hoping to bleed Brown dry, in the manner of Ronald Reagan outspending the Soviet Union into oblivion. In the fierce winds of a campaign, the hardest thing sometimes is to stick to a plan, and the Brown team’s resolve in doing so made all the difference.

Krusty was fortunate to have his wife, Anne Gust Brown, Glazer, ad man Joe Trippi, pollster Jim Moore and other smart and experienced folks around him to help make the decision not to start spending. It helped, too, that as Attorney General, Brown could get himself onto TV and into headlines by investigating Michael Jackson’s death, the finances of the City of Bell or whatever other hot new thing called for the attentions of the state’s top law enforcement officer.

-The unions stepped up to the plate. To an unprecedented extent, California’s labor movement got behind Brown, recognizing that if they didn’t, Whitman might simply blow him away and they would be faced with a Republican governor whose top priority appeared to be dismantling the influence that unions have on state government, in favor of increasing that of corporate interests.

Despite what Whitman would later say, Brown had always had an uneasy relationship with the labor movement (and he likely will again). But they saw him as a far sight better than Whitman, who was touting her plan to cut 40,000 state workers, freeze pensions and generally whack blue-collar interests.

Consultants like Larry Grisolano, Roger Salazar, Jason Kruger, Steve Smith, Courtney Pugh, Richie Ross and others steered coalitions that mounted aggressive independent-expenditure efforts, ultimately spending $8 million attacking Whitman during the summer, $5 million on Spanish-language propaganda and Latino turnout and $5 million to find and turn out non-union, like-minded voters. They targeted Asian voters in four languages and spent several million more on mail, TV and organizing.

At a time when Team Whitman was trying to tear down Brown, the labor campaign appears to have helped keep Whitman from breaking away. Her plaintive crying about “Jerry Brown, Inc.” spending millions to beat her up were hilarious to anyone who realized what the differential was between their resources. But the union effort at least kept her from having a free pass in muddying up Brown while portraying herself as pure as the driven snow.

The state Democratic Party, under quirky Chairman John Burton, also played a crucial role in putting together an aggressive and effective get-out-the-vote coordinated campaign operation that boosted and took advantage of the Democrats’ big voter registration advantage, in a year when Republicans everywhere else in the country out-organized them.

One caveat to all this: there was apparently a four-week period in the summer when Whitman was advertising but no IE ads were on the air. And during that window, Whitman’s ads appear to have driven up her own negatives and made voters less likely to support her. She had, it seems, already tarnished her own brand.

Brown had a simple message and he stuck to it. Despite the legions of ad makers and marketers that Whitman threw at him, Brown’s plain, simple and cheap ads were better.

Consciously and decidedly un-slick – to contrast with Whitman’s over-produced Madison Avenue spots — Brown’s guerrilla ads were inspired and produced by Trippi and often edited  by committee at the Oakland headquarters with the help of Christina Sheffey and Paul Blank — online and creative whiz kids Trippi had sent West. “Retired” ad man David Doak was a key adviser and Glazer, Gust and Brown were deeply engaged and made the final decisions about wording and traffic.

From the very first ad, shot by Francis Ford Coppola and narrated by Peter Coyote, Brown’s spots often featured Krusty talking directly into the camera and focusing on simple themes:

He had the know-how and experience to do the job – not another rookie after Gov. Schwarzmuscle – and he wouldn’t raise taxes without a vote of the people. The latter pitch for fiscal sanity was a key element in winning independents. Everyone knew he had a soft heart. But he needed to prove he had a hard head. And that line helped make the sale.

They also they made the best single ad of the season – the echo ad – which had been in the can for weeks in various iterations and was released only in the final days. Showing Whitman and Schwarzenegger saying exactly the same things – no wonder, since both messages had been crafted by Murphy – the ad ended with a devastating line from the San Jose Mercury News endorsement of Brown: “She utterly lacks the qualifications to be governor.”

-He won his base overwhelmingly and also captured the middle. The Latino vote, long described as “the sleeping giant” of California politics woke up and helped propel Brown to victory. His roots with Cesar Chavez and his long connections in the community helped organizers, especially after Meg’s Nicky Diaz debacle. He swept Latinos 64-30% according to the National Election Pool Survey of more than 3,800 voters by Edison Research.

Brown also cleaned Whitman’s clock among women – 55-39% — and he even carried men 51-45%.

Of course, Brown carried the 27% of voters who said they were liberals 86-8% while Whitman won the 33% who said they conservatives by 78-17%. Most important though, Brown carried the 40% of voters who defined themselves as moderates by 60-35%. Winning the middle was key: Brown knew it and he pitched his entire campaign to that end.

IMPORTANT NOTE TO POLITICAL JUNKIES AND FUTURE RESEARCHERS:  The NEPS/Edison Research data on the vote by party cannot be counted on. The data are NOT based on party registration but on party identification.

This was a nationwide survey, including states that do not have party registration, as California does. So for consistency in reporting national data, party ID was used to record partisan affiliations. The question asked was this: “No matter how you voted today, do you usually think of yourself as a Democrat, a Republican, an independent or something else.” In the survey, 42% of respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 31% as Republicans and 27% as independents or something else.

We won’t know until January, when the California Secretary of State releases the official Statement of Vote, what the actual party composition was in this election. But it won’t be this. Clearly, huge numbers of voters identified themselves as “independent” who are not registered as Decline to State. (Actual registration – although not necessarily the same as those who participated by mail and at the polls – is 44% Democrat, 31% Republican and 20% Decline to State.)

That’s why the survey found Brown winning the self-identified Democrats 91-7%, Whitman winning the Republicans 84-11% and Whitman also winning the “independents and others” by 47-43%. These numbers are simply not reliable.

It’s not possible for Brown to have won moderates 60-35% and to have lost the independents.

-He won the authenticity debate. Although Brown was often a loose cannon on the campaign trail – at various points, he compared Whitman to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, trashed would-be ally Bill Clinton as a liar and didn’t object when one of his handlers called Whitman a “whore” – he also came across as refreshingly real, compared to Whitman’s tightly scripted, highly marketed campaign.

In the debates, he made fun of his age and his lifelong presidential ambitions, lectured Whitman in human terms about her mistreatment of her housekeeper, and refused to pander to xenophobes on illegal immigration, saying that undocumented workers were not “serfs.”

He never gave up his stream of consciousness impressionistic verbal style, even when it cost him, as it did in the last debate when he tried to defend someone in his campaign referring to Whitman as a “whore.” (We think, but can’t prove, it was his wife, Anne.)

When asked at the Women’s Conference in Long Beach who he’d call for advice in the middle of the night, he said he didn’t have to call anyone because she’d be sleeping right next to him (that would be Anne).  In several of his ads he said, “At this stage of my life . . . “ making an asset out of his Gandalfian presence in California politics.

We think he did trim and darken his eyebrows – as Calbuzz had urged long ago. But other than that, he was just who he is: a wizened 72-year-old lifelong politician who knows, as he put it, where the bodies are buried in Sacramento and what skeletons are still in the closet there.

Glazer said it would come down to authenticity versus marketing. And it did.

Five Ways eMeg Blew Her Campaign for Governor

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

In June 2009, a few months after she launched her campaign to become governor of California, Meg Whitman abruptly fired Nicky Diaz Santillan, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had served as her housekeeper for nine years.

No one knew it at the time, but Whitman’s words and action in the privacy of her home on June 20, and on the phone four days later, would sow the seeds of her political loss, a debacle that will define her forever as the billionaire who spent more money on a political race than anyone in history and won nothing but a humiliating defeat.

Recollections differ sharply about exactly what happened when Whitman sent Diaz packing. The former eBay CEO insisted she was gracious and caring toward someone she saw as a “member of her extended family.” It broke her heart, she said at one point; only later did she suggest Nicky  should be deported.

At a Sept. 29 press conference with LA Ambulance Chaser Gloria Allred, Diaz said Whitman was cruel and heartless and insisted that her lawyer had told her there was nothing to be done.

“From now on, you don’t know me and I don’t know you,” Diaz said Whitman told her on the phone. “You never have seen me and I have never seen you.”

What Nicky revealed about Meg: The precise details of the episode may remain fuzzy – but its political impact is crystal clear. In the end, the Diaz story dealt two grave wounds that doomed Whitman’s candidacy:

First, the Republican nominee’s memorable Oct. 1 press conference responding to Diaz’s allegations was a public relations disaster. A real-time, real-life event, it was one of only a handful of times that California voters would see Whitman in public, outside of the carefully scripted and controlled campaign events or the unprecedented barrage of TV ads that she beamed into their living rooms. And polls would show that the unfavorable image they already had of the candidate would only grow more negative.

More broadly, Whitman’s handling of the Diaz affair – and her improbable insistence that she had no idea that Diaz was illegal and baseless accusation that Nicky stole the mail — underscored a central failing of her $160+ million effort. Ralph Whitehead of the University of Massachusetts once explained that in an executive leader, voters look for someone with a hard head and a soft heart. Whitman surely passed the first test. But her handling of Nicky Diaz – which had already occurred and could not be fixed – exposed her as a rich woman with the hardest of hearts.

She might, back then, have mitigated the damage that came later if she had done what most human beings would do for someone who had cleaned their toilets for nine years: hire her an immigration attorney, give her severance pay, help her find a new job. Whitman did none of those things. Voters – especially Latinos and women – concluded she was, at best, not like them and, at worst, inhuman.

“I could not be any prouder of the race we ran,” Whitman said in a farewell letter to supporters on her campaign web page. It’s a typical statement from a woman who could never admit a mistake, whether it was flipping IPO shares, booting her maid to the curb or refusing to pull down her negative ads when implored to do so in front of 14,000 women.

Because Whitman’s debacle cost an unprecedented sum – including about $142 million of her own money – it will be endlessly dissected by pundits, pros and political scientists alike. Calbuzz covered the race for 20 months, and our archive is filled with reporting, analysis and candid commentary about what we saw as its weaknesses from the beginning. Here is a look at eMeg’s five biggest blunders:

-She never gave people a reason to be for her. At some point, some determined academic will calculate the percentage of negative to positive ads that Whitman ran. Our bet is that at least three-fourths were attacks, first on her primary opponent Steve Poizner and later on Jerry Brown.

Whitman came out swinging early last winter against Poizner, long before most Californians had any idea who Steve Poizner was. After she captured the GOP nomination in June, she almost immediately started bashing Brown. The net effect: the first thing that many people came to learn about Meg Whitman was that she was mean-spirited.

The Murphy-Stutzman-Gomez consultant brain trust programmed their meal ticket to chant jobs, budget and education, which she did. These were to be the decisive issues that would drive Whitman to victory. What they overlooked was that they were running a billionaire newcomer who could not connect by eating chili dogs and traveling in a green bus.

Whitman needed to convince voters of the most critical question that Brown’s pollster, Jim Moore, asks in surveys: Which candidate best fits this description — Has the knowledge and skill to be governor?

But beyond endlessly identifying herself as the person who ran eBay, the Whitman campaign never really introduced their candidate to voters, never gave Californians more than a mantra of political platitudes and a few quick images of her and her husband when they were younger.

Who, in the end, was she? Why hadn’t she voted for 28 years? How come she’d never been engaged in a single civic project? Why did she lie about things she had no reason to lie about – like how government interference slowed down building a new headquarters for Pay Pal, or her position on offshore oil drilling or whether one of her ads included a shot of a border fence?

Calbuzz christened her “eMeg” at the beginning of the race and, in a very real sense, she never told us more about herself than that, which may be why the name stuck, and spread into publications across the country.

-She couldn’t handle the immigration issue. One of the big unanswered questions about the campaign remains what Whitman’s handlers knew about the Diaz matter and when they knew it. Either she told them the full details of the matter and they did nothing about it, which would amount to political malpractice on their part, or she kept the story to herself, which would amount to felony stupidity on her part.

After Whitman told reporters that she had informed her top advisers about the Nicky Diaz events, Calbuzz tried to ask her consultants what they’d been told and when. That’s when her top people stopped speaking to Calbuzz at all. That was more than a month ago. There was no way to answer our question without throwing either themselves or their candidate under the bus. So they just froze us out until we said we wouldn’t ask the question any more.

One of the reasons that the Diaz issue gained such traction was that Whitman offered up a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of positions on illegal immigration. When Poizner made it the centerpiece of his primary campaign, she tacked hard right, enlisting campaign chairman Pete Wilson – the former governor known on the streets of Mexico City as hijo de puta — to cut an ad declaring she would be “tough as nails.” But as soon as the primary ended, she lurched back to the center, with an expensive effort to woo Latino voters, a baldly transparent move that came across as crass opportunism, if not utter hypocrisy.

Once the personal became enmeshed with the political on the issue, she could never untangle herself. She couldn’t help Nicky Diaz become legal because she had taken a stand against a path to citizenship – a policy endorsed by most California voters, including about nine in 10 Latinos.

And she made matters much worse at the Univision debate in Fresno when she told a young Mexican-born woman – valedictorian in her high-school class about to graduate from Fresno State – that she was taking the place at the university of a legitimate California citizen. Any non-white parent hearing that would have been appalled at her utter lack of compassion.

No wonder the LA Times reported that exit polls found Latinos voted 2-to-1 for Brown.

-She didn’t have dinner with Calbuzz. Our standing dinner invitation to eMeg, first issued on Labor Day 2009, became a running joke on our site and elsewhere. But her refusal to sit down with us in an informal setting came to symbolize something greater – a contempt for the press in general, founded on her arrogant belief that she had enough money and power to go over the heads of the media.

Whitman gave an interview to Michael Finnegan of the LA Times the day after she announced her candidacy, and she made several stumbles in it, as he pointed out. For whatever reason, she reacted to that experience not by seeking to learn from her mistakes, but by walling herself from the press forever.

Far more serious than stiffing us for dinner was her refusal throughout the campaign to grant an interview to the venerable San Francisco Chronicle, the second largest newspaper in the state; when she refused to meet with the paper’s editorial board, as every candidate for governor in memory has done, it evinced nothing more than contempt, if not abject fear.

The press corps roiled with tales of interview requests ignored or turned down and, at one point, she even refused to answer questions at a press conference she had called. The net effect was to send a message that Whitman had something to hide, that she was afraid to engage in the normal give and take between politicians and reporters, and it raised suspicions among voters.

Not that anyone in the real world cares about whether reporters have access. They don’t mind if a candidate stiffs the media, if she speaks to them, mingles with them, does something other than staged events with phony, planted questions. People care about media access only to the extent that it’s a surrogate for their access

With her retinue of consultants, pollsters and handlers, Whitman presented herself to the public as being more important and too insulated to understand people like them. It is telling that the California Nurses Association character of Queen Meg, who followed her around the state, drove eMeg crazy, because it cut too close to the truth.

Worse, according to a variety of political consultants from the left and right, Whitman’s failure to get out among the media early in the campaign, where she could make mistakes and learn from them, rendered her brittle and unstable at the end of the campaign, when she needed to be sure on her feet. Whitman’s consultants failed to help her handle the unscripted moments of the campaign — and it was in those moments that voters saw who she really is.

The ultimate example occurred at the Women’s Conference in Long Beach, where she managed to get herself booed by 14,000 women by her mishandling of an idiotic proposal from the “Today Show’s” Matt Lauer to take down her negative advertising. “Of course I will, Matt,” she could have said. “As soon as Jerry Brown Inc. takes down their attack ads on me.”  A seasoned pro could have knocked it out of the park. Just days before the election, she was still a rookie.

When it became clear in the final weeks of the campaign that she was losing, she resorted to driving around in a bus and ordering junk food at diners in a by now pathetically too late effort to “reintroduce” herself to the public.

-She ran only one memorable ad and that blew up in her face. It is astonishing that Whitman spent more than $100 million on paid television advertising and even those of us who covered the campaign would be hard pressed to recall any of them that penetrated.

The sole exception was an ad she put up after Labor Day featuring an excerpt from a 1992 presidential primary debate between Brown and Bill Clinton, in which Clinton attacks Brown on many of the same issues Whitman was trying to press.

At first it looked like a killer ad. But when Brown and his fellow Democrats quickly produced, first, a statement from Clinton and then the former president himself to back Brown and assail Whitman for misusing the comments, it backfired on her. Things went from bad to worse when the former CNN reporter whose long-ago TV story was the basis for the whole controversy came forward to say he’d made a big factual error – and Whitman still refused to take down her ad.

This was a Big Moment in the campaign because it shifted the ground precisely where Team eMeg did not want the campaign to go – away from issues and toward character. The ad was mainly about the issues, in particular Proposition 13 and taxes, and secondarily about Brown’s truthfulness. Here was an icon of the Democratic Party saying Jerry Brown could not be trusted on taxes and spending. That was the single most dangerous charge Brown faced. But the ad turned out to be an exploding cigar. When Clinton repudiated it and Whitman defended it anyway, the story shifted to “liar, liar, pants on fire.” And what Team eMeg did NOT want was a campaign about Whitman’s character.

No one should have been surprised that the LATimes/USC survey found that among likely voters Brown had her beat 2-1 when rated on the quality of “tells the truth.”

-She ran as a brand and over-saturated the market. Months ago, Brown’s campaign manager Steve Glazer predicted to us that the race would be about authenticity, with Whitman, fundamentally a marketing executive whose closest confidant, Henry Gomez, was also a marketing guy, trying to brand herself and Brown, a lifelong public official, running as the real deal.

Calbuzz recognized the danger presented by Whitman’s unlimited marketing budget when we laid out how the “standard quantum limit” could inevitably affect perceptions of voters in a political campaign – even one as big as a California governor’s race.

“Some among the cognoscenti wonder if voters will, at some point, find a chalk-on-a-blackboard cognitive dissonance created by a candidate who spends with no limits  to become  governor in order to cut spending,” we wrote back in April.

“Others suggest that as Whitman’s spending keeps growing exponentially, it will bump up against some outer limit where cash begins to have diminishing returns, or even a negative impact, as voters find repulsive her free-spending ways amid the state’s worst recession in a generation.”

Lo and behold, that’s what happened. Whitman’s advertising became so ubiquitous, so intrusive, that voters found her in their living rooms, uninvited, at all hours of the day and night. It didn’t take long before Whitman’s branding campaign ran up against another scientific principle: The T Factor.

This strong force, according to the Calbuzz Department of Weights and Measures, is based on the power of  Tivo to mute and completely skip advertisements, especially nauseating political spots; it is greater than, or equal to, a voter’s curiosity about what an ad might have to say. (This is represented by the formula T≥b*X, where b=bullshit and X=off.)

Certain political consultants will, of course, dismiss this theorem out of hand because if candidates were to believe it, they would make less money. But not only did Whitman’s advertising over-saturate the market (diminishing exponentially the stickiness of later ads) but they actually fed Brown’s narrative about her: that she was a greedy billionaire with too much money to spend and too little respect for ordinary people.

Every new ad had to overcome that revulsion before its content had a chance of being heard and processed. And in the end, voters just tuned her out.

Liveblogging the Dominican Dog Fight

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Update 2:45 p.m. Calbuzz Steady Hand Video is up with a piece by video reporter Jennifer Fey of the action that took place outside the debate hall and press room last night. Her report is here.

In a sharp, fast-paced and intelligent debate, managed expertly by former NBC newsman Tom Brokaw, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown gave any voters still undecided about the governor’s race as clear a choice as they could want: a businesswoman focused on private sector jobs and a lifelong public official focused on untangling gridlock in government.

Whitman scored well on a variety of issues, including a double dose of arguing that Brown is soft on crime and in the pocket of the unions. Brown hammered Whitman on her plan to cut capital gains taxes to benefit the rich and her failure to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Brokaw asked impertinent questions with ease: What made Whitman interested in government after not voting for so many years? Did Brown sanction the use of the word “whore” to describe Whitman by someone in his campaign?

Brown, unexpectedly, was the first to attack, asking Whitman how much she personally would make if her plan to cut the capital gains tax was approved. But Whitman ridiculed Brown’s argument that he would cut the governor’s office budget and said he’d be “the same old same old.”

While Whitman demonstrated skill and knowledge, there was nothing in the debate that changed the dynamic of the race. However it was on Monday it will remain on Wednesday. Rare is the candidate who can use a debate to make himself or herself more appealing. Neither candidate did that, but neither did they make themselves more unappealing.

One note for Brokaw: In comparing the use of the word “whore” by someone on Brown’s staff to describe Whitman’s alleged sell-out to the Los Angeles police union to the use of the “n” word, Brokaw framed the issue with a false equivalency. One is a slur; the other is a blood libel. He knows better: that’s why he could say the word “whore” but had to use “the n word” as it’s “equivalent.”

Late add: That said, Brown’s apology was weak and his response was defensive and ineffective — and that’s what got picked up by most of the writers about the debate.

A brief rundown on key issues covered:

– Capital gains taxes: Meg wants to cut them because they’re a tax on jobs and innovation; Jerry says that would drive California even further into debt and steal billions from schools.

– Immigration: Whitman wants to secure the borders, bring in temporary workers and adopt new technology to verify citizenship; Brown also wants border security but emphasizes  comprehensive reform and supports a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, which Whitman opposes.

– Using the word “whore”: Whitman takes it personally that someone in Brown’s camp suggested calling her a “whore,” and she’s deeply offended for all women; Brown said he’s sorry the word was used and referenced a Calbuzz report about Whitman’s campaign chairman, Pete Wilson, calling members of Congress “whores.” He rejected Brokaw drawing equivalency between the campaigns use of the “w” word and referring to African-Americans with the “n” word.

– Crime: Whitman says Brown has been soft on crime for 40 years, that he doesn’t support the death penalty and appointed Rose Bird, who voted to overturn the death penalty 64 times, to the Supreme Court; Brown said he’s tough as nails, has the police chiefs backing (or was it in his back pocket?) and has defended the death penalty as AG.

– Unions: Whitman says Brown is owned by the labor bosses who have lavishly funded his campaign and that he won’t be able to stand up to the teachers union; Brown says he’s been there before and has denied labor’s demands when he’s had to.

–Pensions: They agree on the need for pension reform – later retirement age, greater employee contributions, two-tier system – but Meg says Jerry can’t pull it off because of his union support. He says he started doing pension reform long before she came to California and can do it more effectively because he can bring all the parties to the table while she vilifies labor. He says he exemption of law enforcement from her call for an end to defined benefit plans is a sell-out, she say cops deserve better treatment.

–AB 32: Meg says the number of green jobs to be created in the short term is not worth losing existing jobs under current economic conditions. Jerry says her moratorium plan will cause uncertainty for investors, and the only ones who want to get rid of existing law are big oil and petrochemical companies.

–Prop. 8 – Meg says she is against gay marriage and that Brown shirked his duty as AG by not defending Prop. 8 in court. He said he acted properly, and according to precedent, by refusing to defend a measure that imposes discrimination.

–National political leaders – He said he welcomes Obama campaigning for him in California and thinks he’s doing a good job. She said she’ll be otherwise occupied when Sarah Palin comes to the state and that she supports someone else – Mitt Romney – for president.

6:20 p.m - On the live feed into the press room, the president of Dominican University just introduced moderator Tom Brokaw, who comes out on crutches. He says he suffered an unidentified “mishap” on his Montana ranch and says he’s a lot like California:  “We’re both broken at the moment,” he said. “The difference is that I hope to be repaired by the end of the year.”

Talks about his personal, professional and family attachments to California: “In so many ways, California is a distillation of America.” Adds that he hopes to affect “the tone of this campaign.”

Brokaw introduces Jerry to the audience, recalling he first met Krusty with he, Tom, was covering Pat Brown’s campaign for governor in 1966. Introduces Meg as “one of the rock stars of the dot.com era.”

6:30 Throw to Brokaw after big taped plug for D.U. He says we’re going to learn lots of stuff about practically everything. Explains the ground rules – no opening statements. First question to Meg.

Tom waaaayyyy up on Mt. Olympus – JFK’s inaugural address is cited — asks the candidates to tell voters what they – the voters – can do for California.

Meg immediately starts talking about herself. Straight campaign schtick and talking points. Doesn’t answer the question except to say that “What people will have to do is support the next governor,” “pull together” and “there’s going to be some shared sacrifice.”

Brown on talking points too: Can’t point fingers, “rise above the poisonous partisanship” rise above categories and be Californians first. “Some people say this is a failed state – it’s not.” He doesn’t answer either.

Tom cites poll that says voters believe that we could cut 20 percent of budget without much affect: “Have voters become unrealistic?”

Meg says “they’re on the right track” and recites talking points on welfare, pensions and government efficiency, once again claims she can cut $15 billion with little impact.

Jerry: “A long time ago I said government was facing an era of limits and, boy, people didn’t like that” but it’s true, he said.

Q3: Should we look at changing Prop. 13 as a key to reform?

Meg: “Proposition 13 is absolutely essential to the future of California.” Says  one of the reasons she’s running is to protect Prop. 13. “Only way to increase revenues is to create jobs.” She sounds sharp and very specific.

Jerry: “There’s no sacred cows over the long term.” I once opposed 13 and then I made it work. Once again plugs Howard J’s endorsement of him. Brown says it’s a “myth” that homeowners are paying more than business.

Says the big problem with Prop. 13 is that in implementing Legislature moved too much power to Sacramento. Says one thing he wouldn’t do is cut the capital gains tax like Meg.

Meg gets a rebuttal and argues that cutting capital gains will create jobs. Jerry rebuts that 82% of the savings would go to people making $500K or more.

First great moment: Asks Meg directly how much she would make personally on such a tax cut. She says she’s “an investor” who would benefit along with “job creators.” She bashes Jerry saying he’s responsible, as a professional politician, for running down the economy over decades.

Jerry says her statements are “demonstrably untrue” and quotes San Jose Mercury News endorsement. Notes that there have been three GOP governors since him. Meg says that it’s “a classic politicians answer” – it’s “a half answer.”

Tom asks about the budget.

Notes Jerry has said “the process is the plan” and asks him to deny that it will be just more of the same, like the 100-day late budget just completed.

Jerry says it’s different because he’s done this before and can make it work by starting earlier and bringing all the stakeholders. We’ve heard this all before.

Tom to Meg: What alterations would you make in existing budget for 100 days?

Meg: Jerry did say “the process is the plan” and if you liked the process, you’ll like his plan. Gets into Jerry face about his promise to cut governor’s budget: “Do you know how much the governor’s budget is?” She cuts off his answer and says it’s $18 million and “if that’s your plan we’re in trouble.”

Good round by Meg. Jerry says “you’ve got to get the Legislature on board or nothing happens.” Says Meg doesn’t have a plan, doesn’t detail $15B in cuts or 40K layoffs.

Brokaw: What about the 100,000 lbs gorilla – underfunded pension system?

Brown says it has to be a two-tier system, credits Arnold for getting a good start on it. “A knowledgeable governor can get the compromise you need.”

? to Meg: What about existing pensioners? Meg says Jerry is “do what I say, not what I do” and hits Jerry over record in Oakland. “If we do not resolve this pension issue, California is going to run out of money.”

New employees have to come in under a different deal. BUT: law enforcement should get a special deal and stay on defined benefit plan unlike everyone else who should be moved to 401(k) program.

Brokaw pounces on that and cites extravagant pensions for L.A. cops, noting that some of them are higher than retired Army generals. Here’s the difference between me and Jerry Brown: he’ll owe his election to the unions that have been attacking me; I’ll be independent because I paid for my own campaign. She didn’t answer the question.

Jerry all defensive about her comments about Oakland record and dithers about that. Says the elephant in the room is that she would exempt law enforcement. Meg says she’s not exempting law enforcement because she’s changing age of retirement, contribution.

Here it comes: Brokaw raises the “whore” comment: “We’ve heard no outrage from you” about this.

Brown said it was a private conversation. Meg and he face to face: You’re defending your campaign against a slur on me. Brown cites fact from Calbuzz story about Pete Wilson calling Congress “whores.”  She tut-tuts that it’s not the same thing. He reaffirms his apology “I’m sorry.”

She says she got the endorsement not because of pension but because she’s tougher on crime, death penalty, etc. Jerry says he has more law enforcement endorsements and he has done dozens of death penalty cases.

Tom on AB32 and Prop. 23: Do you really think it’s going to kill jobs, despite what George Schultz, a great American says.

Meg says she wants to “freeze it, then fix it.” She thinks a one-year moratorium would be best: “We can be green and still smart” and first priority has to be keeping jobs we have instead of focusing on creating a small number of green jobs.

Brown says problem is “start stop” which creates uncertainty for investors. “The people who are crying are two big oil companies from Texas and one petrochemical conglomerate from the Midwest.”

Lots of audience applause, hooting and yelling.

Meg talks over Brokaw and says “what’s wrong with taking a break” on AB32? ”

Bushwah says Brown: there’s no evidence that this going to hurt 90% of existing jobs; we need to stimulate green industry.

Brokaw: What’s the role of the CTA?

Jerry: It’s a very important role. “You can’t go to war” with people who have to be part of the solution.

Meg: She’s still back on AB32. “Jerry Brown needs to get out and campaign more.” Says that the “bosses of the California Teachers Association” are a big part of the crisis in public schools. “We have to make radical changes.”

Brokaw: You’re spending a lot of dough but why didn’t you vote? Is there something else you might have done to benefit the state we don’t know about?

Meg repeats her rote apology for voting. Every candidate is a package of strengths and weaknesses. But spending my own money is a really, really good thing because otherwise “all the union bosses will collect the IOUs” for supporting Jerry campaign. “Of course Griff and I have a foundation.” Of course.

“This was always supposed to be a citizen democracy.”

Jerry: My entire campaign has been supported by many business and many ordinary citizens. She’s raised $30 million from people who will benefit directly from her “key economic plan” which will “take money from schools and invest in her friends.”

Talks about his work in charter schools and says that’s fine what we have to do is focus on the public education system. Push political power down to local level.

Meg says “Mr. Brown just said something he knows it’s not true” and she never said she wanted to keep money from schools.

Brokaw: Let’s go back to immigration. Recalls Meg spine of steel comments and says if you couldn’t figure it out how is anyone else supposed to.

Firing Nicky “broke my heart” (wonder what it did to Nicky?) but we really need an e-verify system. We need more infra red and motion sensor technology on the border. “I’ve been very clear from the beginning that I don’t think the Arizona plan is right for California.”

Brokaw to Jerry: You’re the top cop – why shouldn’t businesses be held responsible? Krusty says they should but it’s a federal problem but he’s worked with the fed through AG office.

The big problem is we have millions of people “in the shadows” and we need a comprehensive plan that includes a path to citizenship. She doesn’t. We need to think about immigrants as people. “And by the way…it’s a sorry tale” but “but after nine years of working for her why didn’t she get her (housekeeper) a lawyer?” Meg looks major pissed.

Tom asks Jerry why he hasn’t done anything about murderous drug dealing. He says he has.

Tom asks Meg: You’re opposed to Prop. 19 – what’s wrong with it being controlled, and administered by the state? She’s “firmly opposed” because “it’s not the right thing.”

And another thing: JB says he’s tough on drug dealers but she got the endorsement of a narcotics officers association. “Jerry Brown has been soft on crime for 40 years.” Rose Bird fought against all 64 death penalty cases that came her way. Look at my front-line cop organizations endorsements.

Brokaw to Meg: How important is Prop. 8? I’m running for governor to advance my talking points. But I’m against gay marriage. What is the responsibility of the chief law enforcement – he needs to defend that lawsuit on appeals. “It’s really dangerous” for him to make a decision on what part of the constitution he will defend and what part he won’t.

JB: I’m following precedent about an earlier racial discrimination.

Back to crime, stumbles and says, “I’ve got the police chiefs in my back…I’m got the police chiefs backing me.”

Meg laughs a really scary laugh and says, “I think Jerry was saying he’s got the police chiefs in his back pocket.”

“Sometimes, unaccustomed as I am to politics,” I misspeak.

Tom: Jerry what do you think of Obama? He’s terrific and I look forward to him coming to campaign for me.

Meg, how about that Sarah Palin? Meg says “I’ve supported other candidates” for president. And another thing: Jerry Brown is a major tool of unions – keeps talking while Brokaw tells her her time is up.

Brokaw: What about relaxing the two-thirds vote for the budget – Prop. 25. Meg doesn’t answer but says she supports a two-year budget plan. Jerry says he backs relaxing two-thirds for budget not for two-thirds.

Jerry gets last word saying unions, business, they’re all part of the process.

“I’ve been in the kitchen, I know what it is to say yes, and what it is to say no. She’s been in the bleachers, working for an internet company.”

Press conferences: Meg’s on first. She thought she did a great job. “I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way things went.”

Tough question on what is your record on drug enforcement – whatrecord do you have? I meant my policies, if I said me record, I misspoke.b

She was “stunned by Jerry Brown’s insensitivity” to use of word “whore” which is very offensive to Californians especially women.

Q: How was Brown campaign use of “whore” different than Wilson’s reference to “whores” in Congress. Completely different. How is it different? Completely different.

Q: I watched debate with Latinos and they don’t like your handling of the Nicky Diaz matter – is that over. “Absolutely.” It’s all Gloria Allred’s fault and Latinos care about a lot of other stuff that I talk about.

8:06 p.m. Brown is here. “Very spirited” debate. He’s standing in front of the podium instead of behind. He says biggest issue was her lack of answer on how much capital gains cut will benefit her personally. “I intend to get an answer to that” before election.

Brown asked about “whore.” I’ve apologized, I apologized again tonight” and I have nothing more to say about it.

And anyway, he rants, she should apologize for how she treated her maid especially about saying she stole the mail.

Happy Labor Day: Meyer, Krusty & the Unions

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Asked once what he wanted for trade unionists, Samuel Gompers, the founder and first president of the American Labor Federation, is said to have replied: “More.”

His terse answer serves as a one-word Rorschach test for sorting out the conflicting perspectives about unions held by the political forces now arrayed in California’s campaign for governor.

For billionaire Republican nominee Meg Whitman and her corporate allies in the California Chamber of Commerce, it is the insatiable greed for taxpayer dollars by public employee unions that is the fundamental cause of most of the dysfunction and financial distress that afflicts California and its government.

For the members and leaders of those unions, however, Gompers’  pronouncement is simply a guideline for social justice and equality, an effective way to ensure that working people get a fair share of wealth in a world where, as Gompers put it, “the man who has his millions will want everything he can lay his hands on and then raise his voice against the poor devil who wants ten cents more a day.”

And for Democratic candidate Jerry Brown, “more” no doubt describes his hope of what will be forthcoming for him from labor in the final two months of the campaign. As wunderkind Calbuzzer cartoonist Tom Meyer observes today, the union salad bowl (and its $10 million in lettuce) that sustained Brown’s candidacy through the summer, as Whitman bashed him with $24 million of TV ads is unfortunately empty, at least for now.

As Brown prepares to launch his campaign (finally!) with a tour of big Labor Day events around the state, however, he’s no doubt mindful that eMeg has many mega-bucks more to drop on his head before Nov. 2. So he must fervently wish there’ll be lots more green union salad coming his way before long.

This week’s Calbuzz Little Pulitzers:

The Francis Pharcellus Church Award  for Editorial Writing to the Fresno Bee for its sharp-eyed attack on Senator Dianne Feinstein’s below-the-radar  effort to stop Calbuzz redefine the First Amendment.

The Grantland Rice Award for Profound Sports Writing to law student Josh Fisher, whose Dodger Divorce blog is by far the most comprehensive, timely and intelligent reporting and commentary on the big league divorce trial of Frank and Jamie McCourt, the shameless social climbing owners of the Dodgers who have spent far more money on lawyers than on players, the outcome of which will determine the future of the franchise. Giants fans say: Go Frank!

The Walter Lippmann Award for Elite Opinion Mongering to the Washpost’s E.J. Dionne for his latest analysis of how Obama screwed the pooch through his disdain for politicking.

The Truman Capote Award for Fiction/Nonfiction – What’s the Big Difference? — Reporting to Michael Joseph Gross for his Sarah Palin profile in Vanity Fair,  which triggered a frightful journalistic row about accuracy and sourcing and led herself to accuse him of being “limp” and “impotent,” which next resulted in Palin being accused of being a gay-baiting homophobe.

The Nellie Bly Award for Investigative Blogging to Torey “Don’t Call Me Dutch” Van Oot for reporting out the efforts of legislative Democrats to throw big bucks behind their cynical and sneaky effort to take back control of reapportionment from the citizen’s commission approved by voters just two years ago.

Final word for Labor Day

The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.