“This is a very important election. It is a battle for the soul of California,” Meg Whitman said at her last full-scale campaign rally in Burbank on Sunday. She got it half right.
This is indeed a very important election. But it’s not a battle for the soul of anything.
It’s a battle for the reins of power in the governor’s office. That will surely have a profound effect on what happens in the next four years: how the state budget will be crafted, who will run massive agencies, who will sit on the bench, who will speak for California, how the Legislature and the executive branch will or will not work together and much more.
But California’s soul — if such a thing can be said to exist at all — is not a subject that can be determined by the ballot box. To the extent that it can be identified, it’s the collective actions of men and women of extraordinary diversity, most of whom who will not vote today, in their daily lives.
The Nicki factor: That Whitman does not understand this became clear on Sept. 29 when her former housekeeper, Nicky Diaz, recounted the events of June 2009 ; it was then that Whitman, upon learning that her employee of nine years was an illegal immigrant, abruptly fired her, doing nothing to help a Mexican national who also is part of the soul of California.
This iconic moment in the campaign — in which Diaz charged Whitman had told her “You don’t know me and I don’t know you” – spoke volumes about the Republican billionaire to Latinos, to women and to working people whom Whitman had been trying to convince that she could be counted on to protect their interests as she led California back to prosperity.
If Whitman loses today, many pundits will point to the Nicky Diaz press conference with attorney Gloria Allred, and eMeg’s shaky response to it, as the crucial turning point in the long campaign.
Jerry Brown, however, rejects that notion.
Calbuzz asked him on Monday, after a spirited rally in Salinas, to what extent he thinks the Diaz story was the defining event of the race.
“I think the first debate and the ads that I was putting on that were pretty positive and communicated a real sense of who I was,” he said. “I think that started turning it and, of course, the subsequent events just intensified the trend that had already started.”
The straightforward ad referenced by Brown, his first TV spot, was made by Joe Trippi. In it, narrator Peter Coyote said that when Brown was governor in the 1970s and ‘80s:
“He cut waste, got rid of the mansion and the limo; budgets were balanced; four billion in tax cuts; world-class schools and universities; clean energy promoted; one-point nine million new jobs created. California was working.”
Then Brown looked straight into the camera, said, “California needs major changes. We have to live within our means. We have to return power and decision-making to the local level, closer to the people. And no new taxes without voter approval.”
The takeaway line from Coyote: “Jerry Brown: the knowledge and know-how to get California working again.”
As for the first debate, which came the day before the Diaz-Allred press conference, Whitman came across as well-prepared, smart and somewhat robotic, while Brown, with self-deprecating remarks and humor, seemed more at ease and authentic.
Subsequent polling would find that voters – especially women, Latinos and independents – were seeing Brown as someone who understands problems of people like them, while they were having a hard time finding Whitman likeable.
On Monday in Salinas, Brown offered a good example of the tone and style which recent surveys suggest voters have found more accessible and appealing than Whitman’s corporate branding image.
“I’m really excited about another opportunity and if the people give me that opportunity tomorrow night you can be sure that you’re going to get somebody who on day one knows where all the bodies are buried in Sacramento.
In fact, I buried most of them. And I know where all the skeletons are and what closets they’re in ‘cause I left a few when I left – they’re still there.”
As for eMeg, it was notable that after a long campaign, in which she spent more money than in any previous race in any state in America, most of it on paid advertising, she spent her last day focused on get-out-the-vote operations, the most mundane and humble of political tasks:
We are going to win this because we’re going to turn out the vote.
Today, finally, we’ll find out.