Posts Tagged ‘endorsements’

Budget War Looms; Why Backers Matter in CD36

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Racking up a big fat collection of political endorsements in an election doesn’t always mean much. But when it’s a low-information, low-turnout contest, where voters are looking for cues, endorsements can have a huge impact.

Which is why Democrats Janice Hahn and Debra Bowen have been scrambling like mad to snag as many as they can in the May 17 special election to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Jane Harman in California’s 36th Congressional District.

Thus far, in the race for endorsements, Hahn, the LA City Councilwoman, is beating the pants off Bowen, the California Secretary of State.

There are, of course, other candidates in this contest including Democrat Marcy Winograd, the progressive left contender, and some Republicans, like Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, Redondo Beach City Attorney Mike Webb, Realty Alert publisher Craig Huey and several others. Here’s the list of candidates and party preferences. In all there are five Democrat, six Republican, five “no party preference,” one Libertarian and one Peace and Freedom candidates.

But the real action – given the district’s partisan cast — is to see who’s gonna be the top Democrat.

The new rule under Proposition 14 is that the top two vote getters in the “primary,” regardless of party, face each other in the general election. But this is a special election and the rules allow that there’s only a runoff election between the top two contenders if no one gets 50%+1 in the initial balloting. And given the large field, it’s likely there will be a runoff on July 12. Whether that’ will be between two Democrats or a Democrat and a Republican depends on how the votes split on May 17.

All of which explains the frantic effort to win endorsements that tell voters who is allied with whose interests.

Bowen has won endorsements from the likes of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Democracy for America (run by Dean’s brother), the Beach Cities Democratic Club and the California Nurses Association. Click here for Bowen’s endorsements.

But Hahn has U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,  Assembly Speaker John Perez, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the LA Police Protective League and unions representing firefighters, longshoremen, electrical workers, letter carriers, laborers, steelworkers, plumbers, communication workers, steamfitters, operating engineers, iron workers, yada yada yada. Plus eight members of Congress, the LA Sheriff…the list goes on and on and on. Here are Hahn’s endorsements.

With her name ID as a statewide elected official and considerable popularity among Democrats in the region, Bowen is by no means a dead duck. But . . .

“That’s a huge, huge tell,” Nate Monroe, assistant professor of political science and an expert in congressional elections at UC Merced, said after hearing the endorsement lists. Not only does the list suggest the range of interests who think one candidate is better than the other, but “they raise the probability that a given voter is going to have a common interest with a given endorsement,” he said.

Bruce Cain, UC Berkeley’s Heller Professor of Political Science and public policy director of the University of California Washington Center, agreed that simply knowing that Dianne Feinstein is on one side and Howard Dean is on the other may be enough for many voters.

“You get into these low-information, low-turnout elections and there’s no question that endorsements matter,” Cain said, in part because voters who do turn out will be more highly informed than the average voter and they will know who the people and institutions are who are lining up behind different candidates.

Hahn’s endorsements, he said, may or may not tell you about her ideology, but they tell you about her strategy: “She’s got a more centrist base.”

Time to Revisit the Calbuzz Plan: “War cannot be avoided,” Niccolo Machiavelli, one of our all-time favorite political writers, famously said. “It can only be postponed to the other’s advantage.”

Old Nick’s sage advice to the Prince came to mind when we heard on Tuesday that Gov. Jerry Brown had finally thrown in the towel on “negotiations” with legislative Republicans in an attempt to win a handful of votes to put tax extensions on the June ballot.

“Each and every Republican legislator I’ve spoken to believes that voters should not have this right to vote unless I agree to an ever changing list of collateral demands,” Brown said.

“Let me be clear: I support pension reform, regulatory reform and a spending cap and offered specific and detailed proposals for each of these during our discussions.  While we made significant progress on these reform issues, the Republicans continued to insist on including demands that would materially undermine any semblance of a balanced budget.  In fact, they sought to worsen the state’s problem by creating a $4 billion hole in the budget.”

In addition to a written statement, Brown released a You Tube video of himself, dressed in a sweater, explaining his reasoning.

“The fact that the governor has now pulled the plug on any further budget talks says only one thing — the only immovable object in Sacramento is Jerry Brown,” replied California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro.

Brown’s extended efforts to use sweet reason to cut a budget deal, while laudable, were starting to make him look silly and weak anyway. The idea that legislative Republicans would ever negotiate seriously over a reality-based solution to California’s $27 billion deficit was probably always an illusion, but it was worth burning some political capital for Brown to at least try to treat them like adults.

But GOP leaders, with their puerile, 11th-hour, 53-point plan for undoing the 2010 election, made it clear that the whole notion that they were interested in helping to govern was a charade all along.

With a June ballot measure — if one could be pushed through by majority vote — apparently now out of the question, Brown and the Democrats are left with basically one option: a November ballot measure which should, as we’ve argued, re-frame the debate. Now that Machiavelli says it’s clearly time to go to war, Brown ought to make it one worth fighting, by battling on behalf of something like the Calbuzz Outside-the Box-Thinking Plan for Fiscal Integrity, Nuclear Safety and Peace in Our Time.

Here’s how it would work: Set things up so that the Democrats  approve, with a majority vote, a conditional all-cuts budget that presumes no tax extensions. (We wonder if Republicans would vote for it.) Then gather signatures to place that on the November ballot, with a provision that if the measure fails the cuts will not occur because the 2009 taxes and fees will be re-instated for five years. As a practical matter, cuts can be delayed to occur after November. And costs can be shifted to local government for local responsibilities whether the measure wins or loses.

Then let Grover Norquist, Jon Fleischman, radio heads John and Ken and the rest of their not-our-problem cadre be forced to argue for the budget ballot measure while Democrats and labor argue against it.

In other words, make the “yes” position a vote for cutting programs for widows, orphans, fish and fawn and the “no” position a vote for freedom, justice and common decency on our streets and in our homes. Recall: in the history of ballot propositions in California, “no” beats “yes” 67% of the time.

As Peter Schrag shrewdly opined this week, Brown let himself get perilously close to being played for as big a fool by the GOP as did Barack Obama.  Three days after his inauguration, Obama memorably told GOP congressional leaders at the White House that “Elections have consequences and, at the end of the day, I won.”

Then he went out and acted like he’d lost.

Obama’s hideous political blunder was to allow himself to be strung along by bad faith for nearly a year in hopes of getting a bipartisan health care reform bill. All he got for his trouble was months and months of bookend cable chatter about how ugly the sausage-making process was; at the end of the day, he finally rammed through a Democrats-only bill, which he could have done much earlier, with much less damage inflicted by the right-wing echo chamber framing machine to the perception the country had about what was actually in the legislation.

Brown — perhaps too much a believer in his own ability to charm and reason –behaved in much the same way.

Our Department of Second Guessing advises that had he moved early and decisively to use the Democrats’ big majorities in the Assembly and Senate to push a tax-extension measure onto the ballot instead of wasting months on no-negotiation negotiations, he now would be in a stronger position to advocate for the revenue proposal and frame the debate, having already pushed the Legislature to pass the painful budget cut portion of his plan.

Instead he’s got nothing to show for his efforts but the cuts, and a clown car full of Republicans who are only too happy to play Lucy-and-the-football with an ever expanding and evolving agenda of DOA demands.

“This is basically trying to ram through an agenda that does not reflect the fact that we have a Democratic governor, and Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature,” Gandalf flack Gil Duran said of the latest GOP move.

Well said and true enough, but we hasten to add that neither are the Democrats themselves acting like they’re a party that won a huge and sweeping statewide victory last November.

“One defends when his strength is inadequate,” as Sun Tzu, another of our old school fave political writers put it. “He attacks when it is abundant.”

Inquiring minds want to know: Perhaps the best measure of how unseriously California Republicans are taking their responsibility to help govern the state is the cowardly duck nearly all of them took on Brown’s bid to abolish redevelopment agencies in the state.

Lest some sensitive soul over at Flashreport start whining about biased Calbuzz sniping, we highly recommend having a read of Steven Greenhut’s excellent piece on the matter over at conservative Calwatchdog.com.

Redevelopment is about everything Republicans claim to loath: bureaucracy, debt, abuses of property rights, big government, excessive land-use rules, subsidized housing and fiscal irresponsibility. In California cities, redevelopment bureaucrats rule the roost and they leave a path of destruction wherever they go. They bully people and impose enormous burdens on taxpayers. The diversion of tax dollars to welfare queens mandates higher taxes, but the GOP sided with the redevelopment industry. They sided with agencies that run up hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed indebtedness. They sided with government-directed stimulus programs, albeit local ones rather than federal ones…

The truth is California Republicans do not believe in limited government. They do not stand up for property owners. They are the party of corporate welfare. They oppose higher taxes, but that’s the only guiding principle of the party these days. And even that is suspect. Many Assembly Republicans, such as the pro-union members of the “no more cuts” caucus (Jim Silva, Brian Nestande and Paul Cook), vote in a way that virtually mandates higher taxes at some point. Then they get on their high horse and sign those bogus tax-fighting pledges. And you wonder why the GOP is fading away in this state?

Does the Money Primary Matter in GOP Gov Race?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

emegcoverForty-nine weeks before California Republicans pick their candidate for governor, Tom Campbell is winning the Press Corps Primary, Steve Poizner leads the Attack Dog Primary and Meg Whitman is way ahead in the Fred Barnes/Weekly Standard  Sloppy Wet Kiss Primary.

The shape of the GOP nomination race remains unformed and uncertain, unlike the Democratic contest, which has settled — at least for now — into a mano-a-mano match-up. In contrast to Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, the GOP contenders have been less visible, their competition to date waged largely for the benefit of the cognoscenti over endorsements, free media and the occasional cheap shot zinger.

The only reliable data we’ve seen is a Field Poll from March that found Whitman at 21%, Campbell at 18% and Poizner at 7%. But these numbers have little meaning since only 28% of Republicans have any opinion about Whitman and just 40% have a view on Campbell. And even though Poizner is a statewide officeholder, only 42% of Republcans have an opinion about him.

poiznerpointing1A key tactical moment for the Reeps will come Tuesday, however, when the rivals show their cards — and balance sheets – for the first big cash-raising period of the Money Primary. With eMeg and the Poison Commish, the two self-made Silicon Valley zillionaires, maneuvering to emerge as the favorite moderate of the right-wing primary voters, media coverage of the new fundraising reports will be crucial in shaping the narrative of the early stage of the campaign. (Even if most of the media coverage misses the point. See #1 below.)

With no clear front-runner among the three candidates now running – a fourth is still playing Hamlet – the campaign at this point is all about fundamentals: money, organization and message. With that in mind, here is a look at five key questions about the GOP primary:

1. Who wins the money primary – and does it really matter?

As a practical matter, neither Whitman nor Poizner needs to raise a dime from outside sources, since they’re both wealthy enough to finance their campaigns for governor and buy a couple of small island nations with the leftover change. For them, political contributions are not about raising the funds to run a campaign operation –- as they are for most mortal candidates. For Whitman and Poizner, fundraising is a kind fiscal Potemkin villagism –- done mainly for symbolic reasons to demonstrate that someone other than the candidate believes enough to invest in the campaign.

That’s why the Whitman campaign for months has been talking up expectations about her reporting at least $5 million raised this week, much of it from individual and organizational donors rather than from her own bank account. Raising a bunch of dough she doesn’t really need, the campaign hopes, will establish Whitman as a viable candidate who is more than a business executive dabbling in politics: “We will not disappoint,” said Whitman spokesman Mitch Zak. “The fundraising primary is a good indication of who can move voters.”

Poizner – who, in the past, has argued that campaign contributions are a measure of external support — has been more circumspect about how much he’ll report.  But his handlers  set out to inoculate their guy from a big eMeg money report, writing in a memo to his steering committee today:tomcampbell

“Many candidates are either ‘money’ candidates who rely on fundraising but lack a strong connection with voters or activists while others are ‘grassroots’ candidates who have difficulty raising the money necessary to get their message out and can rely only on volunteers and activists. Steve Poizner is unique in that he will have a fully-funded campaign with the resources necessary to get his message out as well as have impressive grassroots support that is vital in GOP primaries.”

As for Campbell, he will be the poor church mouse of the race and knows that no matter how much raises, his well-heeled foes will always have more.

2. How much do endorsements matter?

Poizner jumped out early in the campaign, starting last year to begin rounding up dozens of local, legislative and congressional endorsements that gave him a head start in putting together a statewide campaign organization. With a wide-open race, the endorsements of elected officials matter more than usual for 2010, because they can provide the infrastructure for registration, absentee and turnout operations, by offering volunteers, mailing lists and contributors.

For Poizner – who isn’t as personally wealthy as Whitman – endorsements are a kind of political currency. He’s been racking ‘em up like Phil Angelides did in the Democratic primary in 2006 – hoping to build a firewall against eMeg’s money.

In the last several weeks, however, Whitman has succeeded in flipping half-a-dozen former Poizner endorsers, including three legislators, a House member and a county chairwoman, all of whom withdrew their endorsements of the insurance commissioner and started singing the praises of eMeg. That’s the same as snatching Poizner’s purse.

At one point amid the rash of defections last week, Poizner chairman Jim Brulte responded by sending out a letter to GOP lawmakers in a bid to settle things down, contrasting his guy’s political and start-up business experience with Whitman’s CEO gig at eBay: “Though she has much to offer,” Brulte said of eMeg, “her campaign is once again proving why first time candidate business executives never win.”

“Voters simply don’t buy the connection that running an online auction company is the best training ground for our next governor,” he added. “And never in modern history has there been a worse time to be running on the ‘corporate CEO’ brand.”

Whitman’s sudden entry into the grassroots endorsement race, which clearly stung Team Poizner, followed several months when she gave a series of interviews to national media and became the flavor of the month for Beltway establishment Republicans. Among other props, she earned a gushy cover piece in the conservative Weekly Standard by Fred Barnes and the backing of high-profile GOPers, from ex-presidential candidate John McCain to congressional wunderkid Eric Cantor.

To a large extent, the jousting over endorsements is total inside baseball; like the battle of perception over fundraising. However, it matters as a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy: if members of Congress and the Assembly who’ll be facing election themselves next year stand up for a candidate for governor, it sets a marker for voters in their districts about who they should think about backing.

3. What do the candidates stand for?

With the economy and the state’s failing budget the only issues that matter for now, Whitman and Poizner have both been content to stand atop the hill, watching the battle and mouthing conservative platitudes that could be drawn from the 1996 Steve Forbes for president campaign, or the Milton Friedman script for almost any GOP nominating contest in the nation.

Campbell, by contrast, has been aggressive in analyzing, commenting and proposing on the state budget issue, partly because of his experience and background as an economist and public finance expert and partly because he has no choice. Unable to compete with Whitman and Poizner for money, Campbell needs to keep a high profile in the news; he’s helped in this effort because reporters generally respond favorably to his mix of specific, thoughtful ideas about the state’s problems, regular guy persona, and his instant accessibility to anyone with a notebook or a microphone.

As a policy matter, Campbell’s disciplined brand of fiscal conservatism comes with a strain of non-ideological realpolitick – as shown by his support for a short-term increase in the gas tax to ease the deficit, a proposal that may cause him a world of hurt in the primary. Whitman and Poizner for their parts have both largely avoided talking to California reporters familiar with the issues (about that interview with Calbuzz…) and so far have offered little but empty rhetoric and knee-jerk Republican talking points on fiscal issues.

4. Who is Peter Foy and why would he matter?

Foy is a conservative Ventura County supervisor who’s been doing a dance of the seven veils for months about whether or not he’ll enter the race.

Foy has never run statewide and has the naïve and breezy assurance of an overconfident former business executive who hasn’t learned that this stuff is harder than it looks. The reason anyone is still paying attention to him is that, unlike the trio of contenders now on the field, he’s pro-life and conservative on other cultural issues. As we wrote several months ago, the evangelical and social conservative bloc of the GOP does not have a horse in the race, and if Foy ever stops flapping his gums long enough to make a decision to get in, he’d likely begin with a double-digit base and shake up the race.

Were he to get in, Calbuzz thinks the most likely casualty would be Poizner, who has been trying to roll up conservative support for his anticipated battle with eMeg.

5. How bad will the economy get?

With all the signs suggesting that California will be in a deepening recession well into next year, it’s impossible to know whether voters in 2010 will be in the mood for a dose of Republican tax-cut, slash-and-burn orthodoxy, or looking to government to help ease the economic pain.

At this point, Whitman and Poizner have not offered even a hint that they think the government should do much beyond fire tens of thousands of employees and offer more tax breaks to business to help those affected by the recession. Campbell alone has put forward a proposal that offers a strategic look at what government can and should do to help create jobs and stem the loss of business to other states.

One night last week, Campbell got on the phone with several thousand voters who’d responded to a mass robo call inviting them to talk to the candidate on a teleconference, one of the cheapo campaign tactics he’ll be counting on. At one point, the several thousand people on the call were asked to do a touch tone poll to indicate what they identify as the state’s most important issue: the economy and the budget finished far ahead at one and two, a result that had the Campbell camp smiling.