Cue the elephants: Although half of our Western Hemisphere Bureau is on Special Assignment, sampling voter opinion in Cozumel, the short-handed National Affairs Desk will try to soldier on to offer our unique brand of babble-to-babble coverage of this weekend’s Republican state convention.
The festivities promise to be the most intriguing political event since, um, Eric Massa made Glenn Beck’s head explode, as the confab bristles with crucial questions about the future of the California GOP, if not the whole damn Republic. Like:
Will Carly Fiorina stroll the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara accompanied by a Demon Sheep? Will Tom Campbell issue a white paper entitled: “Sami Al-Arian: A Man and His Music”?
Will Meg Whitman take Mitt Romney’s advice to use a little dab of Brylcreem? Will Steve Poizner unveil a cell phone GPS device that only allows right turns?
Will Joe Garofoli try to sneak those little booze bottles from the mini-bar out in a pillowcase, bellowing that they should be included in his room rate? Will Flash Fleischman be carted off in a straitjacket from the sheer excitement of it all?
Only Calbuzz, from our skybox high above the convention floor, will answer these and other of life’s persistent questions.
You sure do ask a lot of stupid questions: Of course, it’s also true that answers to several other, um, more purely political questions may help to shape the increasingly entertaining GOP primary races for governor and U.S. Senate. Such as:
1-Will eMeg talk to the press?
Meg Whitman, the GOP’s front-runner for governor, heads for the convention coming off her worst week of the campaign since, well, since the last state Republican convention.
Her bizarre behavior at the now-infamous Union Pacific non-press conference train wreck not only attracted a ton of national media attention – here, here, here, here and here , for example – but also drew a quarter-ton of brickbats from within her own party, like the wily conservative blogger Jon “Flash” Fleischman, who’s also a state GOP officer:
I have not been in a hurry to pen a commentary on this topic as it seems like how an individual campaign handles the media is really its own business.
Except as of yesterday, we are now shifting to “embarrassing” as the adjective of choice to describe the situation of Whitman and reporters — where we are now seeing prime time television news reports about the avoiding of reporters! This is not good for Whitman, in my humble opinion, and I know it is not good for the GOP — the latter being my reason for weighing in.
A small-bore controversy at first glance, Whitman’s performance in Oakland on Monday seemed to crystallize a bundle of doubts about her candidacy – her record of failing to vote, her shyness about debates, her year-long avoidance of serious press interviews, her refusal to release her tax returns, her disinclination to avoid any but the most controlled campaign events – that can be summed up in the question: Who is Meg Whitman?
eMeg’s sprint to the head of the pack has been built entirely on the strength of millions in paid advertising. Now her imperious behavior, however, has got the press corps snarling and growling, which could make things unpleasant for her, at best, should the pack go into full barking and baying mode.
One good way to soothe the beasts would be to make herself available for a full-blown press conference at the convention, in which she handles every question that comes at her, by herself, without restrictions and without the help of press handlers or down field blocks from campaign thugs.
2-How hard will Poizner hit illegal immigration?
Still far behind eMeg in the polls, Steve Poizner is showing signs of gaining some traction with his recent red meat offerings to the GOP right-wing, a faction over-represented among the grassroots convention attendees.
The V.C. Star’s Timm Herdt has smartly noted the emphasis that Poizner has been putting on the issue of illegal immigration, among the most visceral concerns of conservative voters.
With eMeg having expressed her distaste for the milestone Proposition 187, Poizner will work all weekend to rally the troops around this and other filet mignon matters; if he succeeds, he could build up some steam heading out of the weekend and into next Monday’s first debate with Her Megness.
“Meg’s message so far has been very muddled,” said one veteran GOP consultant who’s not playing in the governor’s race. “Steve is now talking directly to the conservative base and what he’s saying has some edge to it.”
3-What’s the Tea Party going to do?
As the aforementioned Chronicler Garafoli reported, a busload battalion of Tea Party types plan to raise the flag at the convention, which could make for some interesting political theater:
There may not be any candidate debates at the GOP hoedown this weekend, but the pitchfork and torch crowd will be welcomed home like prodigal children….angry prodigal children. Is there a family therapist in the house?
“Probably 70 percent to 80 percent of our supporters are disaffected Republicans,” TP Express spokesman Joe Wierzbicki told us Monday. So while the Tea P has problems with both parties, they have a better chance to affect change by changing the GOP, he said.
“By us being there, I’m sure people will be wondering,’Is the Republican Party selling out to the Tea Party?’ or ‘Is the Tea Party selling out to the Republican Party?’ People can have that discussion. I’m sure it’s a little bit of both,” he said.
For conservatives, the energy and the passion of the political moment reside squarely with the Tea Party crowd, and their enthusiasm for a candidate can make a difference in a close race. Just ask Senator Martha Coakley, D-Mass.
One beneficiary of it this weekend will likely be Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, the right-wing’s favorite son in the three-way GOP primary for the nomination to oppose Senator Barbara Boxer in the fall. As Tom Campbell and Carly Fiorina beat each other’s brains in on issues like Israel and internet taxes, you can make an argument that DeVore is the only guy in the race with a clear, identifiable political base.
As the Tea Party’s tribune, DeVore could make things interesting if either Campbell or Fiorina fades, and he’s left standing as the conservative foil to a moderate front-runner.
All that said, the biggest question of the weekend convention is: How much does it really matter?
Traditionally, Republican conventions have been pep rallies for grassroots folks who ring doorbells, make phone calls and help organize modest fundraisers. But California’s zillionaire candidates are running for governor on television, period, and their presence at the state convention is something of a courtesy call.
This is especially true of Whitman whom, our sources tell us, has already bought a staggering $12.6 million in cable and broadcast time. That kind of campaign plan renders party activism and enthusiasm largely irrelevant.
Sure, it’s nice to have some excitement generated from the base and sure, convention types represent some votes themselves and with the people they can bring to the dance.
But it’s not like the old days (“We walked 12 miles to school, through the snow, barefoot!”) when a candidate for governor stone cold needed hard-core party activists. eMeg, especially, has no need for actual people, except perhaps as props.
A final note: Calbuzzer Don Ringe imagines eMeg and The Commish encountering each other in the convention hotel hallway.