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Final Thoughts on IGS 2010 Gov Race Conference

Monday, January 24th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Poizner’s Agen explained:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry’s Challenge, Tony V’s Play, Arianna’s Aura

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s Budget Teach-In last week in Sacramento was refreshing in its openness — with Brown and other presenters warning that the state’s budget shortfall is now estimated at about $28 billion between now and July 2012. No smoke. No mirrors. Just cold ugly facts.

But the gathering at Memorial Auditorium only took about 12 seconds to demonstrate anew that the fundamental conflict in Sacramento will not be solved by gathering everyone in a room together, sitting around the fireplace and singing kumbaya. Collegiality and civility certainly have been in short supply among the locusts fine men and women California voters have sent to the capital on their behalf.  But the principal contradiction is not a matter of congeniality — it remains political and ideological.

Most of the Democrats, and all of their leaders, believe the state’s budget shortfall is a revenue problem. They think taxes aren’t properly distributed and that solutions will be found by increasing revenues.

Most of the Republicans, and all of their leaders, believe the state’s budget shortfall is a spending problem. They think cutting unnecessary and overly generous state spending is the road to salvation.

KQED’s John Myers outlined the conflict nicely last week under the headline: “Jerry, Meet Gridlock; Gridlock, Jerry.”

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did no better — and some would argue a lot worse — than his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, at placing California on a firm financial footing. As he skips town, he leaves behind a huge mess that former-and-future Gov. Brown now must try to clean up.

Rumors abound that Jerry is planning to craft an austere budget which he will use as Exhibit A to obtain from voters some sort of temporary tax increase in June, or perhaps even a measure granting voters in cities, counties and school districts the authority to raise taxes with a majority vote or at least something less than two-thirds.

That would certainly return decision-making to local communities, “closer to the people” as he said in his campaign commercials. This of course could only succeed if Republicans and conservatives did not wage war against it. Which brings us back to the principal contradiction, which is a matter of ideology not civility.

To a cartoonist, like our Tom Meyer, it’s all a huge pile of garbage that’s been left behind by the previous administration and Legislature.  It’s hard to argue with that.


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What does Tony V want (don’t ask the LAT): Not since M.C. Escher has there been such a perfect image of bizarre and inescapable bureaucracy as the By God Los Angeles Times displayed over the past week in its  mishandling of an important political story involving hometown mayor Tony Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa was in Sacramento on Tuesday to deliver the opening speech of the big conference on the state’s future sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California, which drew about 600 political and policy types, including the likes of such national names as Judy Woodruff, Van Jones and Dan Balz of the Washpost.

Despite an early morning speaking slot that preceded the day’s first panel, focused on education, Tony V promptly made news: Villaraigosa, whose labor organizing and Sacramento political careers featured fierce advocacy for teacher unions, surprised his weed whacking audience by issuing a harsh denunciation of those very unions:

What is stopping us from changing direction?

Why, for so long, have we allowed denial and indifference to defeat action? I do not raise this question lightly, and I do not come to my conclusion from a lack of experience. I was a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association, and I was a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles. From the time I entered the California State Assembly and became Speaker, to my tenure as Mayor of Los Angeles, I have fought to fund and reform California’s public schools.

Over the past five years, while partnering with students, parents and non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members and teachers, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership. While not the biggest problem facing our schools, they have consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo…Regrettably, they have yet to join us as we have forged ahead with a reform agenda.

Tony V’s deliberately provocative comments, coming from California’s most prominent Latino politician, not to mention a lifelong union goon, were a big deal, voiced at a time when teacher unions are increasingly embattled by national education reform efforts, starting in the White House.

And that’s how the matter was treated – by almost everyone except Hizzoner’s hometown paper.

Within minutes, David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, had fired back at the mayor during a panel discussion that followed his speech. The relentless Jack Chang filed a post about the conflict on the Bee’s Capitol Alert blog not long after, as did the invaluable John Fensterwald on his state education blog .

By the next morning the reform-minded Joe Mathews had characterized Villaraigosa’s remarks as “the most significant speech given by a California politician this year,” and a variety of broadcast and wire reports, along with several newspaper editorials strongly supporting the mayor’s sentiments, were circulating.

And amid all the urgent buzz over the next two days, the L.A. Times produced . . . radio silence.

Not a word from any beat, anywhere on its far-flung editorial depth chart, which is rivaled only by the forces that gathered for the invasion of Normandy for organizational complexity and resources.

Our motto: if it’s news, it’s news to us.

Finally, on Friday morning, Times editors managed to clue their readers into what their mayor had been up to that week. A double byline story by Patrick McDonnell, who writes about labor, and City Hall reporter David Zahniser,  which also included reporting by Teresa Watanabe and Jason Song of the education desk, finally caught up with the news – a full 72 hours after Villaraigosa spoke.

“I knew it would cause a firestorm,” Villaraigosa said in an interview Thursday, two days after the speech.

This just in: Big firestorm slowly heading toward L.A.

In the end, it was left to Cathy Decker,  the paper’s ever reliable state politics editor, to clean up the elephantine mess with a Sunday thumbsucker that addressed the key question puzzling Calbuzz readers: WTF is Tony V up to?

“For a Democratic politician who is presumed to have ambitions once he is termed out of office in 2013, Villaraigosa’s moves were intriguing,” Decker wrote.

To those more Machiavellian in nature — say, the entire political establishment — other possibilities came to mind: Villaraigosa was angling for an Obama administration job. He was declaring independence from party positions and powers in preparation for a future statewide run. Or he was trying to redefine his mayoralty in a way that could reap benefits down the line, were he to decide to exercise options one or two….

Part of the difficulty in divining what Villaraigosa was trying to accomplish last week is the parallel difficulty in figuring out where he might be going.

Decker seemed to hit upon the nut of the matter when she noted that, regardless of Tony V’s secret aspirations, he needs to bump up his profile, now, to avoid being generationally squeezed out, between California’s Democratic Geezer Trio and its cool new Dynamic Duo:

When he first ran for mayor in 2001, Villaraigosa was seen as one of the Democratic Party’s up-and-comers. Now the senior Democrats — Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Gov.-elect Jerry Brown — are in their 70s. Villaraigosa will be pushing 60 when the next big race occurs — Feinstein’s Senate seat is up in 2012, though she has said she plans to run again. Catching up with the mayor is a younger group of Democrats, personified by the incoming lieutenant governor and attorney general, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris. Both are in their 40s.

For upward momentum, or just a legacy, Villaraigosa has to make good on his basic pledges: to lower crime, improve schools and increase jobs. Crime has been down, but joblessness is high. Voters can cut mayors slack during national downturns, but no such slack is likely when it comes to the state of the schools. Villaraigosa himself said years ago that voters should “absolutely” hold him responsible for reforming schools, and unless he can convince voters that the unions are to blame, they are likely to hold him to it.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Remind us again why she gets to be on “Meet the Press”?

LAT/USC Poll: Climate Change Bites eMeg’s Backside

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Long ago, Calbuzz suggested that Meg Whitman made a strategic blunder during the Republican primary when, in an effort to look conservative enough to beat Steve Poizner, she came out swinging against AB 32, California’s pioneering greenhouse-gas reduction law. Our point was simple: she had alienated independent and moderate voters who tilt the balance of power in California because, for them, protecting the environment is an important cause.

Whitman tried to soften her outspoken objections to AB32 as a job killer by meekly coming out (after much dithering and poll-taking, we suspect) against Prop. 23 – the Texas oil-company sponsored measure to essentially kill AB32. But the gambit didn’t work.

According to the LATimes/USC survey, which finds Brown leading Whitman 52-39% among likely voters, Prop. 23 is losing 32-48%. And there is, USC Political Science Professor Jane Junn tells the Calbuzz Green Eyeshade Division, a significant correlation (.37) between a vote on the measure and a vote preference for Jerry Brown. We can’t say for certain whether the dog is wagging the tail or if the tail is wagging the dog, but look at this:

Of voters supporting Prop. 23 – that is, who want to kill the state’s climate change law – 32% are voting for Brown and 57% are for Whitman. But among those opposed to Prop. 23 – the much larger group that would retain the law — 69% are for Brown and 25% are for Whitman. An opponent of Prop. 23 is nearly three times more likely to vote for Brown than for Whitman.

Likewise, among Whitman voters, Prop. 23 is winning 46-31%. But among the much larger group of Brown voters, Prop. 23 is losing by a crushing 20-64%. A Brown voter is more than three times more likely to vote against Prop. 23 than for it.

The only voters in favor of Prop. 23 are Republicans (43-34%), conservatives (51-29%) and those Whitman voters. Every other major demographic bloc is opposed to the measure, with independents (29-55%) and moderates (24-53%) looking a lot like Democrats (23-58%) and liberals (15-73%) on the issue.

Prop. 19, which would legalize marijuana for personal use, appears to be going down in flames, training now 39-51% in the LAT/USC survey. The only people for it are Democrats (51-41%), Independents (48-37%), liberals (66-27%) and – lo and behold – Brown voters (52-42%). Of course, younger voters favor the measure more than older voters, but there aren’t enough of them to affect the outcome.

Too bad for Brown. Those who favor the measure prefer Brown over Whitman 66-25% while those opposed to Prop 19 favor Whitman 50-41% over Brown. “Dope Smokers for Jerry”  hasn’t yet gotten off the ground, despite Democratic Party Chairman John Burton’s prediction that pot would be the key to Democratic victory. Maybe that’s partly due to the fact that the Attorney General opposes the measure.

The LAT/USC survey also finds Prop. 25, which would lower the threshold for passing the state budget to a majority from two-thirds, is well ahead – 58-28%. That’s almost certainly due to the add-ons like denying legislators their pay and per diem every day a budget is late. But no matter, it appears in strong shape – winning in every demographic category, including a slight lead among Republicans and conservatives.

BTW, according to Professor Junn, Prop. 25 also correlates significantly with a vote for Brown (.35) as does Prop. 19 (.28). We just can’t say for certain which is the driver and which is along for the ride.

The Democratic firm Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner and the Republican firm American Viewpoint conducted the poll for the Los Angeles Times and the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, calling landlines and cellphones Oct. 13-20.  A random sample of 1,501 California registered voters were called, including an oversample of Latino respondents for a total of 460 Latino interviews. The survey identified 922 likely voters for whom the margin of error is +/- 3.2%. The margin of error for Latinos is +/- 4.6%.

To be included in the likely voter sample, respondents must have voted in 2006 and 2008, said they were “almost certain” or “probably” going to vote in 2010 and rated their enthusiasm about voting as 5 or higher on a 10-point scale. Those who registered since the 2008 election were included if they met the enthusiasm standard and said they are “almost certain” to vote this time around. Likely voters also included those said they have already have voted by mail — about 7% of voters surveyed.

PS: For an important update on how California voters regard immigration, see Cathy Decker’s article in the ByGodLATimes. For the Times report on the propositions, click here.

Voters Turn to Web for Politics (Calbuzz Sets Pace)

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

All but overlooked in the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll is some intriguing new data that shows a dramatic shift in how people get their political news in the state: web sites and blogs have now left newspapers in the dust as primary sources of such information.

“People more and more are getting their news and information about California politics and elections on the internet,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC’s CEO and director of the survey. “Television and newspapers are not what they used to be.”

The survey asked respondents to identify where, ”you get most of your information about what’s going on in politics today.” The results show that while TV remains the top choice for 37 percent of Californians, the internet is now in second place, at 24 percent, while newspapers lag  behind in third, with only 15 percent saying it is their main source for politics.

The findings cap a decade-long cultural trend: When PPIC asked the same question in 1999, 45 percent listed TV as their leading choice, while 30 percent said newspapers and only five percent pointed to the internet.

While the influence of political coverage in newspapers has sharply declined, however, there was some good news in the poll for the industry: Among those who use the internet for politics and elections news, 47 percent said they turn to newspaper web sites, only slightly fewer (50 percent) than those who said they use other types of websites (we name no names).

As for those who still consider newspapers their leading political source, nearly three in four (73 percent) said they read the paper version of the publication, a significant drop-off since 2007, when PPIC first asked the question, and 87 percent said they preferred the paper rather than the‘net.

The PPIC research is just the latest in an ever-accumulating mountain of evidence that shows the traditional MSM business model, which consisted of publishing or broadcasting a general interest news and information product to a mass audience which is then marketed to advertisers, continues to crumble.

With the rise of the internets, the mass audience has fragmented, and consumers now have a virtually unlimited number of niche news sources where they can find more in-depth and detailed information about specialized topics (we name no names).

The good news: a vast array of choices for readers and viewers. The bad news: consumers, citizens and voters never again have to read or watch something with which they disagree.

“People can now find many sources of information they agree with, instead of seeking a broader view,” said Baldassare. “The trend certainly has pluses and minuses.”

Late Edition: At our request, PPIC ran another crosstab which found that among those who have both a cellphone and land line, 34% get their political information from TV, 26% from the internet, 16% from newspapers and 11% from radio. Among those with a land line only, 62% get information from TV, 12% from the internet and 10% from newspapers. This is a HUGE difference and suggests that the shift to the internet for information is moving right along with the shift toward cell phones and away from land lines.

When it rains it pours: Speaking of digital technology, we can only hope that Her Megness found it amusing when her spokeshuman, the volcanic Sarah Pompei, made a one-letter URL error on a Twitter message she was forwarding from chief strategist Ned Beatty Mike Murphy, and accidentally directed the entire Golden State political press corps to a You Tube video of a Korean transvestite bass player.

The story about Pompei’s mis-tweet promptly went viral, though Calbuzz is not entirely certain that it counts as good news for a campaign in the closing days that the most popular message you put out is about a Korean transvestite bass player.

No word yet on who the guy is endorsing, and apparently no truth to the rumor that before he makes up his mind he’s demanding more info on eMeg’s position on intellectual property rights.

How dare you? Belated mega-kudos to our old friend Cathy Decker, High-Ranking News Sheriff and Ace Rewrite Person for the by-God L.A. Times’ vast political team, for neatly working the word “umbrage” into a recent analysis about the low-rent controversies, including the whole “whore” kerfuffle, that pockmark California’s campaign for governor:

It was not immediately clear who uttered the comment; the Brown campaign said it was not the candidate. The candidate was not heard disabusing the speaker, in any case.

Whitman’s campaign responded in full umbrage, calling the word choice “an insult to both Meg Whitman and to the women of California.”

“This is an appalling and unforgivable smear against Meg Whitman,” her spokeswoman, Sarah Pompei, said.

And yet the same Whitman campaign last June tried to dismiss as inconsequential reports that the candidate, during her tenure as chief of EBay, had cursed at and pushed a young woman underling.

Decker’s splendid adjectival construction provides an entry point into a re-examination of “umbrage politics.” In this silly political game, a candidate or campaign takes deliberately misconstrued, overdrawn or reductionist offense — of the “I’m shocked – shocked to find that gambling is going on in here” variety — at some statement or act by a rival (see: Fiorina, Carly; entire campaign).

Or as Michael Kinsley put it, in a lovely little piece called “Do People Really Want a Stupid President” over at Politico:

This puts us in the fashionable world of “umbrage politics,” where the game is to take as much offense as possible at something someone said or did. Usually this will involve giving the controversial statement or action an interpretation, or at least an importance, your victim obviously never intended and hiding the obvious fact that — far from being “saddened” or “outraged” — you are delighted to have this stick to beat him or her with.

Obama said that “facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day” at the moment “because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.” (Columnist Michael) Gerson riffs on this: “Obama views himself as the neocortical leader —  the defender … of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression.” In short, he takes this single sentence from the president, deconstructs it thoroughly enough to qualify for tenure in many an English department and calls the result “some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.” Then he goes to town.

We’re shocked – shocked!- to find that umbrage politics is going on in this campaign.

Final word on whore: Better late than never, Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss breaks it down once and for all. Let us not speak of this matter again.

Meyer: Careful Where You Motor That Boat, Carly

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

When Barbara Boxer’s attack ad on Carly Fiorina came out the other day, with its mention of Fiorina’s “million dollar yacht,” we were reminded of an unfortunate nautical gaffe  made by another Republican candidate for U.S. Senate — John Seymour, who was trying in 1992 to hang onto the seat he’d been appointed to by Pete Wilson, after Wilson became governor.

Challenged by Dianne Feinstein, Seymour was a decent man but something of a hapless statewide candidate. And it didn’t help when, at the California Republican Party Convention, he was trying to demonstrate his sensitivity to the down-and-out by saying: “Sometimes you lose your job. Maybe you’ve got to sell your boat to keep your family going.”

He tried later to explain himself, telling our friend Cathy Decker at the LA Times: “I wasn’t speaking of yacht owners. Boat owners! There’s hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions (of boats) in California.” But he never could portray himself as anything but a wealthy, Orange County Republican and, in the election that swept Bill Clinton into the White House, Feinstein beat him 54-38%.

None of which anyone but a few alter kockers even remembers. But it is a delicious backdrop for Calbuzzer Chief Pen Stabber Tom Meyer’s cartoon this week in which an environmentally challenged Hurricane Carly is outraged at the damn proletarian whale (sorry Babs) that gets in the way of her yacht.


Senate situationer: As Babs and Carly prepare to spar on public radio Wednesday afternoon, a non-face-to-face showdown certain to be heard by hundreds, three quick thoughts on the state of the the race:

1-Team Fiorina may come to regret giving Boxer a free pass to pummel their candidate for a full week without offering an answer to Bab’s tough ad about Carly’s reign of error at HP.

At a time when most recession-riddled voters are just tuning in, and one third of them know next to the nothing about Fiorina, the attack line Babs has pressed since the first debate about Hurricane slashing 30,000 jobs is not exactly the first thing Mean Girl wanted folks to know about her.

2-When Fiorina finally responded, she didn’t even try to blunt the heart-of-cold CEO narrative that Boxer is pushing, but rather tried to change the subject with her beat down of Babs for getting all huffy with a general for not using her correct title.

Boxer’s worst You Tube moment is a great insider issue, but not particularly salient to the problems of the unemployed; moreover, many women voters of Barbara’s generation, and the one that followed, who had to fight fiercely for respect in the workplace, may not think she was all that out of line with her comment.

3-The big unknown in the campaign remains the question of whether Fiorina will benefit from a massive cash infusion from the Rove Republican forces now funneling hundreds of millions of post-Citizens United corporate dollars, often with no disclosure of the donors, into mid-term races across the country.

Two factors mitigate against it: a) giving iCarly a real boost will be a most expensive proposition and any organization that decides to play in California, shadowy or not, must be all-in to be effective – half measures won’t do it; b) unlike eMeg, Fiorina has yet to make a serious and sustained financial commitment to the race out of her own pocketbook; one of the assets national Republicans originally saw in her candidacy was her ability to self-fund.

Given the latest polls, until she puts in more than table stakes, they may decide their money can be spent more efficiently, and with a greater chance of success, on smaller battlegrounds. A Senate seat is a Senate seat, no matter wherefrom.