— Help Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, by pitting her against two career politicians or;
— Help Chuck DeVore, the conservative Assemblyman, by siphoning votes from moderates in Silicon Valley where Campbell and Fiorina share a base or;
— Neither. Or both.
Trust us, anything you read at this point about Campbell’s impact on the GOP race for the right to challenge Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is rank speculation. Campbell says his polling shows him leading followed by Hurricane Carly and Caveman DeVore. But until the Field Poll comes out with some hard data next week, political analysts and other hacks are flapping their gums. Some will be proved right and some wrong. But who cares? As Omar says, the game is the game.
On the other hand, Campbell’s departure from the GOP governor’s race should have a profound and more predictable impact, if not on initial standings (we’ll know more about that next week, too, because the Field Poll asked voters to name their second choice) then certainly on the tactics we’ll see in the near future.
Some people supporting Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner have wondered why the Commish hasn’t gone after former eBay CEO Meg Whitman with greater vigor (can anybody say “monster”?). Part of the reason was no doubt his campaign’s concern for allowing Campbell to profit from what you might call your “Checchi Effect.”
That’s what spurred Gray Davis to victory in the Democratic primary in 1998: when airline executive Al Checchi and U.S. Rep. Jane Harman spent millions attacking each other (with only some glancing shots at Davis), they both went down in the polls and the Grayhound squeaked through the gap.
Now that Campbell is out of the governor’s race –- and in anticipation, we’ve already seen Smokestack Steve go after Monoxide Meg on AB32, the climate change law — we expect a tougher, louder and broader attack on Whitman from Poizner. In fact, if he doesn’t go after her soon, he’ll be risking allowing her to waltz away with the nomination.
Campbell’s withdrawal gives Poizner an opening right now. Freed from the calculus of a three-way race, The Commish can now frame the GOP campaign as a clear choice: Meg and Not Meg. Further, going one-on-one with Her Megness lessens the importance of gender, which benefitted her more as the only woman running against two stiff white guys (Barbara Boxer’s surprising win in her 1992 Democratic Senate primary against Mel Levine and the late Leo McCarthy is a good example of this dynamic).
The move by Campbell also benefits Poizner by allowing him to husband resources (he’s rich but as not as rich as she is), make clear decisions about who and how to attack and change up his positives and negatives at any given moment. Or as Calbuzzer Sun Tzu likes to say, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
Jerry Brown could also benefit from the rebooted GOP race. In a normal three-way GOP race, a candidate with a lead in the polls like eMeg’s could stay positive about herself, ignore her opponents and begin to spend money attacking Brown as early as spring, hoping to knock down his positives among independent voters. In a two-way race, however, this candidate would have to spend time fighting off her Republican adversary and wouldn’t spend scarce resources whacking the Democrat at the same time.
Of course, eMeg is no normal candidate, She’s a billionaire apparently willing to pour virtually unlimited personal funds into the campaign. She could — if she’s willing to spend many millions early — afford to run three tracks of advertising: one positive for herself, one negative against Poizner and one negative against Brown. She’d risk sending voters a mass of conflicting messages, but with laser targeting — also made possible by her vast resources — she just might be able to broadcast three different messages.
Of course, spending that much money could further burnish the notion that she’s a moneybags business mogul with no political experience who’s trying to buy the office of governor. But since she’s gonna get hit with that anyway, why not actually do it?