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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.

eMeg’s Historic Meltdown: Woman Booed by Women

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

LONG BEACH  — Handed a splendid opportunity to portray her campaign as an historic event for women in politics, Meg Whitman made a different kind of history on Tuesday.

Campaigning to become California’s first female governor, Republican Whitman accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of getting roundly booed by a non-partisan audience of 14,000 women gathered to, um, celebrate the accomplishments of women.

In a remarkable few moments of unscripted political theater, eMeg turned cheers to jeers at the California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, as she fumbled and stumbled through an excruciatingly awkward exchange about TV attack ads with Democratic rival Jerry Brown and NBC’s Matt Lauer, who moderated the unusual session, which also included outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As on two previous occasions when she was forced to react in real time outside the accustomed comfort of her campaign cocoon – her famously awful 2009 press conference when she tried to defend her decades-long failure to vote and the presser she convened a few weeks ago to answer questions about employing an undocumented housekeeper for nine years –  eMeg on Tuesday displayed a rare combination of political tone deafness and an utter inability to think on her feet.

By the time the fireworks ended, Whitman had not only failed to take advantage of a chance to boost her sagging standing among women voters, a week before the Nov. 2 election, but also succeeded in making her male opponent look good.

In the process, she managed to embarrass herself with a thoroughly dopey performance before the state’s political press corps and most of the TV cameras south of the Tehachapis, making major campaign news out of what should have been a feel-good appearance at a touchy-feely event.

How it started: The drama began near the end of the live session with the governor and the two candidates who want to succeed him, as Lauer — who demonstrated he knows absolutely NOTHING about politics — shamelessly sought to play to the kumbaya crowd with a horseshit, goody-goody question.

First decrying the negative ads that both sides have run – which, Lauer emoted, have created a “bloodbath” (puh-leeze) – he asked:

“Would either of you, or both of you, be willing to make a pledge that you would end the negativity? [Big cheer] Would you pull your negative ads and replace them with positive ads and talk to the surrogate groups as well [which would be ILLEGAL, you jackass, which is why they're called independent expenditures] and express that to them, that you want only positive message out there to give the people of California a break and let them decide what really matters. Would either of you accept that?”

It was a totally inappropriate question and actually unfair to Whitman, who is behind in all the public polls and has no choice in a tough campaign in which she’s invested $140 million of her own money, but to try to pull voters away from Brown. In any event, that’s her decision. And Lauer had no business sticking his scrawny ass into the campaign and trying to broker some deal because he thinks that’s how the game should be played. If he knew anything about politics in general and California politics in particular he would not have asked such a dimwit question.

But the women in the audience, who spent the day applauding the inspirational good works of poets, playwrights, Supreme Court justices — not to mention Oprah Winfrey and conference convener and California First Lady Maria Shriver — thundered their approval.

Round One: Brown answered first, venturing forth with a Buddhist-tinged meditation on the subjective nature of reality — “First of all you have to remember, negativity is in the eye of the beholder . . .” –drawing scattered boos and hoots. But Brown’s political antennae suddenly tuned in — “Oh yeah,” he must have thought, “I’m AHEAD, I can afford to go all positive if she does” — and with head-snapping alacrity, he switched direction:  “. . . but if Meg wants to do that, I’ll be glad to do that.”

Cheers.

Then eMeg started digging herself in, trying to draw a bright line distinction between her negative ads – true, honorable and all about the issues – and Brown’s negative ads – false, unfair personal assaults on her sterling character. Sez her.

“The character attacks, the attacks of personal destruction, the attacks on one’s character I think are very different than a debate on the issues. It’s OK that Jerry Brown and I disagree, for example, about the capital gains tax – something I think should be eliminated and he doesn’t. It’s OK to have a discussion around the issues,” Whitman argued. “What I have found very challenging, and I’ll be honest about it, is the personal attacks. The things that I have been called in this campaign – it’s not fair to the voters of California, it isn’t the right thing to do…”

Lauer broke in and got up on his New York know-nothing high horse: “There’s been enough slurs and housekeepers. We know you are both flawed people. Everybody in this room is flawed…But what is going to accomplish what Gov. Schwarzenegger is talking about – taking California to the next step, financially in particular, is going to be your strengths not your weaknesses. And I’m asking again, will you both pledge? I’ll give you 24 hours because I know the wheels of a campaign don’t stop overnight,” he said, as if he actually knew anything about how campaigns operate.

Round Two: Brown, quick as ever, joined Lauer’s game: “Let’s be clear about it: if she takes her negative ads, reasonably defined, I’ll take mine off. No question. We do it together. No problem. . . . I pledge that right now.” Krusty was in for a dime, in for a dollar, eliciting big cheers from the ladies at lunch.

But Meg kept digging, trying to parse and finesse the question before an audience that was in full bay for promises of sweetness and light.

“So here’s what I will do,” she said. “I’ll take down any ad that could even be remotely construed as a personal attack. But I don’t think we can take down the ads that talk about where Gov. Brown stands on the issues. I just think it’s not the right thing to do.”

Booooo, hisssss, hoooot….

Lauer said people seem to be asking for more.  And Brown smelled blood in the water.

“I’ve got one nice ad where I look into the camera and I just say what I’m for,” he said, ever so reasonably to Whitman. “You have a very nice ad where you look into the camera – it’s a pretty good ad by the way. We’ll leave up one and let all the other ones go off. I’ll agree to that right now.”

Lauer tried to seal the deal but Whitman froze. “Let me try a different approach…” he said, when Brown jumped in, offering Whitman a lifeline: “You know, I don’t think it’s quite fair, to [have to] make a decision in the face of all this,” he said, sounding ever so gentle.

Round three: Lauer said he’d studied the polls [right] before he came to California and “some could say what you’ve tried to this point isn’t completely working, why not try a different course,” he lectured Whitman. “And Gov. Brown, some could say if you do believe the polls and you’re leading, I would imagine you wouldn’t only want to think it’s because you diminished your opponent, correct, so get rid of all those things” — which was doubly stupid because 1) Brown is happy to diminish his opponent and 2) he’d already agreed to Lauer’s dumbass proposal.

But Whitman kept digging:

“I think it’s important because I’m new to politics. People need to know where I stand and also they need to know Jerry Brown has been in politics for 40 years and there’s a long track record there and I want to make sure people really understand what’s going on.

“And I’m not doing it in a mean-spirited way. [Guffaws in the press tent] I just think it’s important for people to really understand what the track record was in Oakland, what the track record was as governor,” she said, while audience members started searching for overripe vegetables to throw.

His lifeline rejected, Brown decided to go in for the kill: “I’ve got a great ad. It starts off with Meg Whitman saying I moved to California 30 years ago because it was such a great place with all this opportunity. And then the ad says, and who was governor?”

Huge uproarious laughter and whooping in the press tent.

Did Meg stop digging? No way. “What you need to know is that in many ways, Jerry Brown left the state in worse shape than he did (sic) when he inherited it,” she said.

Booooooo…

[Capsule clip here]

End Game: Lauer was worried he was going too long until Schwarzenegger told him the conference was his and Maria’s and he shouldn’t schvitz (sweat) the extra minutes. And then he said nice things about Meg, nice things about Jerry and also rapped Meg with the back of his hand,  implicitly defending his record against her constant refrain that she as governor would make California “golden again.”

“I happen to disagree with Meg a little bit,” the governor said. “California is going to be a golden state once again? California is a golden state!”

Bottom line: eMeg should have listened to Calbuzz and played the gender card. Everything leading up to that moment was all about how it’s time for a woman. Instead, she spun gold into straw.

The mistress of swag: Before the fun started, the Calbuzz Department of Consumer Affairs and Worthless Tchotchke Collections was privileged to receive an extraordinary guided tour of the exhibit hall where conference sponsors and vendors were hawking their wares.

Our guide, a prominent MSM reporter whose name is withheld to avoid embarrassing her family, led us on an expedition that netted products ranging from hand sanitizers, body lotions and KY “intensity cream” samples to miniature flashlights from SoCal Edison, cardio stent stress squeeze balls and countless varieties of health bars from a host of fruit and nut manufacturers.

Best score: A package of postcards trumpeting all 125 careers that Barbie has engaged in over the years of her existence, including TV newswoman Barbie.

How eMeg Should Play Gender; Rove Boosts Lungren

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

LONG BEACH — When Gov. Schwarzenegger, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown join Matt Lauer, host of the “Today Show,”  for a four-way here today at Maria Shriver’s star-studded Women’s Conference, it’s supposed to be a civil, genteel, collegial discussion of the problems facing the Great State of California titled “Who We Are, Where We Are Going.” Isn’t that nice?

But for eMeg — who is trailing in all the public polls just one week before the election — it’s a last chance to squeeze off a big, fat, juicy sound bite that gets played all over the state and the country. And maybe — if Krusty sticks his smug, condescending foot in his mouth — she could put Brown on the defensive.

Jerry will be in protect-the-ball mode and Schwarzmuscle will probably be cruising on automatic statesman (unless he gets asked why he hasn’t endorsed fellow Republican Meg). So the big question is whether Whitman will break the rules and attack or challenge Brown.

Now, Team Whitman hasn’t listened to anything Calbuzz has ever suggested and they pretty much regard us as bad cheese (NB: we asked her to dinner and for an interview but never got either). But still we humbly offer this suggestion: Meg should say something like, “So, Jerry Brown has a long, long career working in the public sector, but you know what — it’s time for a woman to be governor. And I’m ready to do the job.” Or some such.

What’s Gandalf going to say? “No it’s not time for a woman. It’s time for a 72-year-old white guy.”

We kinda doubt eMeg will play the gender card. If she had wanted to, she could have put a gazillion dollars behind it in a TV ad. Feminism isn’t really in her wheelhouse. And as we wrote back in June, party is a much stronger motivator of the vote than is gender. But these are desperate times. She’s way behind among women voters and a rank appeal to sisterhood just might help — especially if she’s actually as close as her advisers have been furiously spinning in the past few days.

Whatever happens, the entire National Affairs Desk of Calbuzz — sparing no cost or effort — is here in Long Beach to capture the flavor and texture of the moment. If there is one. Otherwise, we’re just going to lunch.

How Rove Is Helping Lungren: Here’s a Special to Calbuzz from Mackenzie Weinger,  one of our vast array of political writers in Washington.

The number one target among House races for American Crossroads, Karl Rove’s so-called “Super PAC, is California’s 3rd congressional district.

American Crossroads recently made a $682,323 ad buy against physician Ami Bera (D), who is challenging Rep. Dan Lungren (R) in one of the state’s few close races. While the group has dumped millions into several Senate races across the country, this buy marks its biggest investment in any House campaign.

“It’s the biggest House buy, but it’s also the single most expensive media market we’ve purchased time in for the House,” American Crossroads spokesperson Jonathan Collegio told Calbuzz. “In terms of voter impression, it’s equal to most of our other efforts.”

Lucinda Guinn, Bera’s campaign manager, said the IE buy, although not coordinated with the Lungren campaign, should give residents an insight into the incumbent Republican’s priorities.

“We’ve mounted a very serious challenge to a career politician who didn’t see it coming, and now his big oil buddies and special interest friends are coming to bail him out because he’s nervous,” Guinn told us.

Attack ads from the rival’s campaigns have been hitting TV screens for weeks now, but American Crossroads’ is the biggest independent spending in the district’s media market.

Lungren released an ad this week, “Who is Ami Bera?”, calling Bera Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “handpicked candidate”— an attack that Republicans across the country are using. As for Bera, he made a splash earlier this month with “Shirts,” an ad that criticized Lungren for attending a 2008 conference in Hawaii with campaign funds. Although the trip was cleared by the House Ethics Committee, Bera’s campaign alleges Lungren exploited a loophole for a free vacation.

That’s just part of the Bera campaign’s focus on Lungren and campaign finance. The real concern, Guinn says, is what would happen if Republicans take the House on Nov. 2 and Lungren wins the Third District: as the ranking GOPer on the Committee on House Administration, Lungren is in line to become its chair.

“He would have jurisdiction over campaign finance regulation,” she noted. “He’s been looking out for his own folks for a long time – for big oil, Wall Street and his special interest friends.”

With his vote against the DISCLOSE Act and the recent influx of outside spending, Guinn said that “Lungren claims he supports campaign finance transparency, but he’s not saying anything about Karl Rove coming in” to the district.

“Outside groups and Karl Rove showing up in your living room is not what Californians care about,” she said.

Bera has written a blog post about Lungren and campaign finances that’s been making the rounds on the Internet. He writes that “Rove’s shadowy slush fund” is “hoping to hijack our election through false and misleading advertising.” Bera, who reported $448,859 cash on hand for the most recent filing period, is set to debut a new ad sometime this week, Guinn said.

But America Crossroads operative Collegio said that Lungren is the one under attack by special interests in the toss-up race.

“Lungren is heavily targeted by a well-funded opponent and a number of labor groups who wanted to defeat him in the general, and we believe our efforts serve a good balancing effect in the dynamics of the race,” he said.

He said the district is a critical one for Republicans, and added that the organization may release a new ad there this week.

“Every competitive race for control of the house is important, and while most of the focus has been on Republican pickups, it’s equally important to protect incumbents, especially when they’ve come under attack by outside organizations,” he said.

Check out the American Crossroads ad attacking Bera on health care reform:

Announcer: Not only does Ami Bera support Obamacare, he says it doesn’t go far enough. Obamacare’s $525B in job killing taxes isn’t far enough? The higher insurance premiums aren’t far enough? How about the $500B cut from Medicare? And reduced benefits for over 1.5 million California seniors? Ami Bera and Obamacare – They’re bad medicine for California. American Crossroads is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Speaking of ads: Here at Calbuzz we’re big fans of spots where the candidate contradicts him or herself or where a candidate is caught saying nice things about his or her opponent, to wit, this tasty morsel slapped together by Team Krusty with eMeg opening by saying , “You know, 30 years ago anything was possible in this state.” Followed by a black screen question and answer:  Who was governor 30 years ago? Jerry Brown.” Followed by the Peter Coyote voice-over recounting Brown’s accomplishments, followed in turn by a news station’s raw footage of Whitman saying, “I mean it’s why I came to California so many years ago.” Not sure how much dough Brown’s campaign will put behind it, but it’s a nice touch.

Meanwhile, Team eMeg unleashed yet another attack ad, this one accusing Brown of being a dishonest failure and a “job killer,” whose only plan for California is “more taxes, more spending and more lost jobs.” And he’s a tool of the unions and a liar, to boot. In case you were wondering.

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.

Pre-Debate Notes from the Press Room

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

4:15 p.m. The logistical arrangements for tonight’s Tom Brokaw show Jerry Brown-Meg Whitman debate rivals the planning for the invasion of Normandy, and the staff and students at Dominican University in San Rafael have done a terrific job getting ready for the big event.

Wizened by years of experience on the pothole pocked campaign trail, Calbuzz showed up six-and-a-half hours before the 6:30 p.m. kickoff, in the unstinting service of our readers, and were quite pleased with ourselves for doing so.

Amid annoying armies of satellite trucks and blow-dried bloviators, media types from Hong Kong to Germany flying in from around the globe, and the closed roads and Patriot Act level  security slapped on by fire marshals and  San Rafael cops, we skated in ahead of the other 265 credentialed news hounds and hens, got our work space set up in a jiffy, then headed off to a two-star, all-you-can-eat lunch ($6.95) at the campus cafeteria in Caleruega Hall.

We recommend the quesadillas and the salad bar (press room chow update  later).

In our spare time, we also managed to score a world exclusive, ferreting out the story of how Domincan scored Tom Brokaw as a moderator and, in the process, landed themselves squarely in the spotlight of national attention. Here’s how the deal went down:

Through the friend of an ex-spouse’s ex-friend ex-spouse (we name no names), Dominican’s public affairs office connected with Cindy Myers, the high-energy, former longtime marketing and promotions executive with the Chronicle and Examiner, who’s now got her own consulting business.

Asked if she could help the college put together a high-profile gov’s debate, Cindy said no problem, and promptly dashed off a Facebook message to Phil Alongi, a big deal NBC news producer whom she’d met while working on the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

In the message, she asked if he would be interested in producing a California gubernatorial debate, and whether it might be possible to get Brokaw as the star attraction.

Angoli , who was at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, said he’d be delighted. As for Brokaw:

“He’s standing right next to me,” Myers recalls that Alongi told her, and he’d be delighted as well. The rest is history, at least at Dominican University.

One other Brokaw note: apparently the last time Big Tom moderated a debate with Jerry Brown was in 1992 when Brown kept raising his 1-800 number sign during the debate, which drove Brokaw so crazy that during a break in the action he called a top Brown campaign aide, begging for Jerry to stop. He didn’t. Instead, he raised $8 million.

5:45 p.m. D.U. just sent in the caterers with a light but satisfying pre-debate spread to help the ladies and gentleman of the political press carbohydrate load in advance of the grueling task that lies ahead.

Soft rolled lavosh (lahvosh? lavash?), some filled with turkey, thinly sliced jack cheese and spinach, others a delightful vegie blend of eggplant, artichoke and yellow peppers, set off with a side of Kettle Honey Dijon chips. Magnifique! At least if they bring some cookies soon.

Only downside: Many sweltering journalists’ teeth specked with green. Yuck!

30 minutes to kickoff.