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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Brulte’



Hasta la Vista GOP, or Why Cesar Chavez Lives On

Monday, March 28th, 2011

As a union organizer, Cesar Chavez, whose birthday we commemorate today, was no friend of immigrants who slipped across the border illegally to provide cheap labor in the fields of California that undercut the drive for living wages for farm workers.

Hell, the United Farm Workers was known to have reported illegal strike-breakers to “la migra,” and in 1973, they set up a “wet line” (imagine the outrage if anyone else had used the term) along the US-Mexico border to stop immigrants from sneaking into the country illegally and undermining the UFW’s work organizing field hands.

But Chavez – especially in his later years — was a strong proponent of allowing illegal immigrants living and working here to become legalized, and today would surely be fighting for a path to citizenship, as his granddaughter, Dr. Cynthia Chavez, made clear in a TV ad for Jerry Brown during the 2010 governor’s race.

Which makes today the perfect opportunity to focus on an issue that Calbuzz has hammered on repeatedly – the need for California Republicans to support a path to citizenship for illegal and undocumented workers. Not because it’s the right and decent thing to do – never a powerful argument with the knuckle-dragging wing of the GOP — but because it’s a matter of their party’s political survival.

Failure to communicate: Don’t take our word for it. Some of the smartest Republicans around make the case. “A pathway to citizenship for those who have entered the country illegally is the most important element of immigration reform for Latino voters,” wrote Marty Wilson and Bob Moore, after a recent Moore Information survey of Latino voters in California.

According to the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, about nine in 10 Latinos (86%) favor giving illegal immigrants “a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status.” That’s a position shared by 68% of Democrats and 62% of independents but just 41% of Republicans.

What we have here is a failure to communicate. And the political effects are profound.

“Latino voters are widely negative about the Republican Party (26% favorable/47% unfavorable/27% no opinion) and widely positive about the Democrat[ic] Party (62/22/17),” Wilson and Moore wrote. Nor is the GOP “going to win many Latino voters by stressing conservatism; only 22% suggest that Republicans should, ‘stick to core values and nominate true Conservatives.’

Fully a third of Latino voters say they will never vote for a Republican although another third would consider GOP candidates if “Republicans move toward the center and nominate candidates who are less conservative.”

The big picture: To appreciate the magnitude of the challenge for the Republicans in California, it helps to understand first the national context.

During the past decade, the Latino population in the U.S. grew 43 times faster than the non-Hispanic white population, the Census Bureau reported last week. Between 2000 and 2010 the U.S. Hispanic population grew 43%, to 50.5 million from 35.3 million. Latinos’ share of the total population rose to 16% from 13% — accounting for more than half the total U.S. population growth in the decade.

At the same time, Census Bureau officials reported, the non-Hispanic white population grew by barely more than 1 percent, dropping as a portion of the total from to 64% from 69%.

“The states with the largest percent growth in their Hispanic populations include nine where the Latino population more than doubled, including a swath in the southeast United States – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The Hispanic population also more than doubled in Maryland and South Dakota,” reports the Pew Hispanic Center in an analysis of the Census Bureau report.

“In six states, growth in the Hispanic population accounted for all of those states’ population growth; if the Hispanic population had not grown, those states would not have grown,” Pew added. “They included Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. In Michigan, the state population declined over the decade but the Hispanic population grew.”

No place to hide: While Latinos in Florida, New York, Illinois and California cannot be viewed as a monolithic voting bloc – voters of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Haitian and Mexican ancestry, for example, cannot be easily categorized politically – surveys consistently find a common thread is a belief that there ought to be a mechanism for allowing illegal immigrants to become legal residents and/or full citizens.

And with the continued growth of Hispanics, red states are becoming less reliable safe harbors for Republicans (consider Nevada, for example) and so too are formerly “safe” Republican districts in California.

“Increasingly for California Republicans, there’s no place to run, no place to hide,” said Democratic consultant Garry South who, with former Republican state Sen. Jim Brulte, recently analyzed the changing electoral landscape for their partners at California Strategies.

“The demographics are moving so heavily against them, it’s becoming very difficult to maintain a meaningful number of completely safe GOP seats almost anywhere.

“Most of the huge Latino growth between 2000 and 2010 was in inland areas normally considered Republican, not along the coast,” South said “And Asians grew by even more than Latinos. Together, Latinos and Asian Americans now constitute an absolute majority of Californians. Republicans are getting on average about 30-35 percent of their votes. Do the math.”

Said South and Brulte in their analysis:

Based upon the historical standard of “safe” verses “competitive” districts, there will likely be a few more competitive legislative and congressional districts. That said, given that the top two vote getters regardless of political party run off in the November general election, the historical notion of “safe” districts now no longer applies.

 

While many GOP legislators, donors and activists, believe a “fair” redistricting presents a great opportunity, there is also a huge potential downside risk for the GOP as well. If the Democratic Party’s consistently overwhelming financial advantage is not countered at the legislative level, it is possible that Democrats [will] obtain a two-thirds majority in one or both houses of the state Legislature in 2012.

 

The GOP has not experienced a net pick up of legislative seats in a presidential election since 1984.

The Elephants’ elephant: In their analysis of Latino voters, Wilson and Moore call immigration “the elephant in the GOP living room.” The Arizona immigration law is widely unpopular among Latino voters, immigration reform is widely popular and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be trusted, by a ratio 0f 57-21%, to reform immigration laws.

And the central issue is a pathway to citizenship.

Why is it so hard for Republicans to move on this issue? Because – partly in fear of an influx of Democratic-leaning voters – they’ve spent years railing against illegal immigration and appealing to the most nativistic and xenophobic impulses of their base voters. Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman – who otherwise might have been quite moderate on the issue – tacked so far right on immigration they made themselves pariahs among Latino voters in the 2010 governor’s race.

Even Mike Murphy, who made a bloody fortune leading Whitman’s disastrous 2010 campaign for governor, seems to have gotten the point. The GOP is saddled with a “base-driven strategy that has injected red-hot rhetoric into our party’s message on immigration” he told the Washington Post. “Primary politics have made the situation even worse,” Murphy said, suggesting as Chris Cillizza reported,  that GOP opposition to some sort of path toward legalization is a “non-starter” for Hispanic voters. No duh.

Wilson and Moore tested one message they believe can help the GOP find greater favor among Latinos. “A candidate who says, ‘secure the border first, stop illegal immigration, then find a way to address the status of people already here illegally’ gets a favorable reaction from 73%,” they found.

Others have suggested the GOP could favor legal residency, but not full citizenship with the right to vote, for undocumented workers. Still others say if an illegal immigrant serves in the U.S. military or graduates from college, he or she ought to be able to become a citizen.

How the keepers of the John Tanton anti-immigrant flame in California would react to a movement within the California Republican Party (or by a statewide GOP candidate) toward a more moderate line on immigration is, sadly, predictable. The phrase “head on a stick” comes to mind.

“I don’t think a Republican candidate can win on this issue either way in California,” said South “If they support a path to citizenship, they enrage and alienate their lily-white base. If they oppose it or try to straddle the issue, they just become the typical anti-immigrant Republican who wants to deport every Latino back to Mexico. They’re fucked. Hee, hee.”

Happy Cesar Chavez Day!

Why the CA Republicans are Flirting With Stalinism

Monday, March 14th, 2011

In preparation for the statewide convention of the California Republican Party this weekend, the Calbuzz Department of Process, Rules and Schadenfreude has been in secret discussions with apparatchiks who are cooking up what you might call your Soviet Rule – whereby the GOP Politburo determines who’s pure enough to get the party imprimatur in a top-two primary.

The idea is to ensure that before actual voters decide which candidates they want to consider in a November run-off election, the most conservative activists in the California GOP will meet and determine who the “actual” Republican in the race is, so that no polluted candidate can lay claim to the party label.

We’ve also taken a look at the GOP Alien and Sedition Act proposed by the cave-dwelling California Republican Assembly, which would expel any GOP legislators who vote to put Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extension on the June ballot.

The proposed resolution (and we quote)  “censures these traitorous Republicans-in-Name-Only, ask(s) for their resignation(s) from their positions within the California Republican Party, pledges to endorse and support efforts to recall them from office, and directs the California Republican Party staff, agents and officers to refuse to provide them with funding or assistance in future elections.”

As if the CRP had any money or assistance to give.

In the words of Jim Brulte, the former legislative leader and perhaps the smartest GOP thinker in the state: “If the California Republican Party spent half as much time trying to elect Republicans in November as they do trying to purify the party in June, we’d have a lot more elected Republicans.”

But the true believers would rather have 20% of the Legislature populated by purist ideologues than have 50% and a healthy dose of diverse thinking.

The Democrats also have a system for endorsing candidates that was adopted before the top-two primary was approved by the voters. But in cases where there are open seats and several candidates, the party seldom endorses because the threshold is so high. And when it does, whoever wins the primary – endorsed or not — is automatically the party’s nominee. How that will work in a top-two primary remains to be determined: maybe the Dems will come up with a similar system of purging one of their own, too.

But for now, it’s the upcoming Republican convention that’s at hand and it looks like it’s going to be a warriors’ weekend. There’s even a proposal on the table to ensure than any incumbent legislator is automatically endorsed by the party – even though those legislators may be running in different districts after the citizens’ reapportionment is completed.

Comrade Jon “Josef” Fleischman explained why the Reeps are so stirred up: “The idea is that unless the Republican Party is behind someone, we might not have a candidate in the top two.”

But what if the voters in a district opt for the non-endorsed, unpure (perhaps even –gasp – a moderate) Republican as one of their top-two choices? How will the Politburo react? Just because a candidate says he or she is a Republican doesn’t necessarily mean the party considers him or her an actual Republican. What if it’s a pro-choice Republican? Or a Republican opposed to offshore oil drilling? Or – OMG – a RINO who voted to put Brown’s tax measure on the ballot?

That’s where Celeste Greig’s grand ole’ CRA resolution comes to the rescue – with a Great Purge, cleansing the party of unclean, odious moderates, seeking to make sure cats don’t mix with dogs, that people can’t marry chickens and that marginal tax rates aren’t treated like bad cheese.

How else to ensure a robust, thriving and united party? How else to stamp out democratic centralism? How else to eliminate those Trotskyites lurking in secret cells in Anaheim, Redlands or Redding? Give ‘em the axe, the axe, the axe, we say.

This is why we love covering politics: because just when you think things can’t get more bizarre, some party chairman invites some dog-ass ideologue to debate the governor whose spokesman, appropriately, offers up an actual dog as a surrogate. Or the last remnants of a dying party apparatus sponsor resolutions and rule changes designed to narrow their party even further.

We should have to pay to cover this stuff. Oh wait, we already do.

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.

Calbuzz Rescues Inaugural from Crashing Boredom

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Calbuzz staff psychiatrist Dr. P.J. Hackenflack greatly enhanced his reputation as the Perle Mesta of California Monday night, as he tossed the toughest-ticket bash of Inaugural Week, featuring fine cuisine and libation, fine fellowship and the brightest stars in the state’s glittering political firmament.

In a political social whirl otherwise dominated by an event where the big payoff was a couple of dogs and a small bag of chips, Calbuzz party organizers agreed with each other that their gathering of First Amendment scumbags and rapacious consultants was by far the best shindig of the week.

Unfortunately for the good Doctor H., he missed his own soiree, after passing out cold beneath a banquet room table from rapidly throwing down 13 or 14  double Jamesons on the rocks several hours before his guests arrived.

Still, the 90 or so revelers who were actually conscious for the big party, held at fabulous Lucca restaurant (plenty of valet parking), did their best to overcome their disappointment at his absence, dining on smoked chicken risotto, chicken saltimbocca, pan roasted salmon and grilled bistro steak, consuming mass quantities of Ray Station Merlot, Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and Camelot Cabernet, and enjoying an evening utterly bereft of the tedious, mind-numbing speechifying that characterizes most such events in Sacramento.

Plus, they got a really cool credential — the type which the skinflint Brown operation provided to no one covering his big day.

Consistent with the post-post-partisan values and ethics of Calbuzz — which hold that folks of differing political persuasions are to view their rivals not as bitter enemies, but as nutty neighbors — Republican operatives like Adam Mendelsohn, Jim Brulte, Kevin Spillane, Marty Wilson, Beth Miller and Julie Soderlund (special kudos to Rob Stutzman and Mitch Zak for being the only ex-members of the GOP’s Legions of eMeg with the stones to show up) mixed and mingled with leading Democratic lights, including Tom Quinn, David Townsend, Joe Trippi, Donna Bojarsky, Jim Moore, Steve Glazer, Jason Kinney, Roger Salazar, Steve Maviglio, Karen Skelton  and Garry South (whose frequent harsh criticisms of Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor make him an intraparty marked man, matched Stutz and Zak’s raw courage in taking his place  at the festivities), while other hacks (widely suspected of  RINO tendencies by some in the Neanderthal Caucus) including Jack Flanigan, Bob Naylor, Donna Lucas and Don Sipple, added to a gemutlicht ambience of general hilarity.

Along with members of the Capitol press corps that Calbuzz actually knows (apologies to Sactown hacks we don’t know), world-class media types, including New York Times L.A. bureau chief Adam Ngourney, by-God L.A. Times sage George Skelton and national political correspondent Mark Barabak, A.P. political writers Juliet Williams and Judy Lin and KCRA-TV’s inimitable Kevin Riggs sprinkled the crowd, as Greg Lucas of “California’s Capitol,” Joel Fox of “Fox and Hounds” and Torey Van Oot of “Capitol Alert” ably represented the political blogosphere and blindingly insightful eggheads and policy makers like Dan Schnur, H.D. Palmer, Dave Lesher, Nancy McFadden and Peter Schrag raised the average I.Q. of the room at least a point or two.

Here stood newly sworn-in governor Brown, huddling with newly named Resources Secretary John Laird over matters of apparent great urgency.

There was new First Lady Anne Gust, explaining to an astonished inaugural witness how she was surprised to find out she was introducing her husband about two minutes before his swearing in.

Across the room,  almost Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom passionately held forth on the insider intricacies of San Francisco politics that have delayed his swearing in (see Agnos, Art and his five votes).

We even have a boozy recollection of overhearing Krusty and the Prince dividing up the world: Gavin focuses on economic development and UC and stays out of Jerry’s way as he tries to run the government. Such a deal.

Worried Democrats meanwhile kept an anxious eye on Brown, lest he keel over and make incumbent Lite Gov Abel Maldonado a full-term governor before Newsom takes the oath of office.

A good time was had by all, except for the aforementioned, utterly plastered Dr. H. There were no injuries.

Rocky Poizner Battles Back Against eMeg Creed

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

There’s a great scene in “Rocky,” after underdog Sylvester Stallone has just hammered the arrogant heavyweight champion Apollo Creed with a couple of roundhouse lefts, and the champ’s corner man yells at him to stop preening and prancing around:

“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show,” says Creed’s trainer.  “He thinks it’s a damn fight!”

The classic cinematic moment came to mind Wednesday, when Steve Poizner’s campaign for governor delivered a major blow against the mantle of inevitability that Republican primary rival Meg Whitman has worn for months:

After trailing eMeg by 40+ points as recently as a few weeks ago Team Steve trotted out a quartet of senior strategists for a conference call with political writers to proclaim that they’ve closed to within 10 points, with nearly five weeks to go before the June 8 election.

“The Meg Whitman campaign is one of these classic campaigns which is sort of somebody walking around with a paper bag full of water. It wasn’t going to leak, but once it went, it would go. And that process is very much underway,” said chief strategist Stuart Stevens.

That there is some substance behind their spin had already been demonstrated, when Whitman’s handlers – after learning about the upcoming Poizner press call — convened their own conference call, leapfrogging Poizner by 30 minutes. Pre-spin spin.

“Our polls have been tracking with the public polls and I would be very strong in suggesting take any internal poll spin 30-32 days out with a grain of salt and keep an eye on those public polls that aren’t paid for by an interested party,” said Whitman strategist Mike Murphy. “Still, I want to be very clear we have always expected this race to close, and I think we’ve been very direct in telling you guys that.”

Poizner, he said, has “spent about $14.5 million on negative advertising targeting Meg Whitman, most of it misleading and disingenuous, but it has served two purposes. One, it has confused Republican primary voters — and we’re going to get them unconfused–  and second it’s made Steve Poizner fundamentally unelectable in the general election.”

The dueling spin sessions heightened the growing sense of immediacy and aggressive engagement in the GOP race, building on the hostile tone of Sunday’s Meg-Steve debate, and the recent multi-million dollar volleys of attack ads the contenders are launching against each other, during every popular TV show from “Lost” to “Dancing with the Stars.”

And speaking of movies, the several hour spin cycle played out kind of like “Rashomon” with both sides looking at the same events and developments and offering entirely different interpretations. Here’s a look at the highlights:

Polling – Poizner trotted out Neil Newhouse and Gene Ulm of Public Opinion Strategies to offer what they said were the key findings of their latest three night tracking poll (May 2-4, 800 undefined “likely Republican primary voters”). According to Newhouse, in the middle of February – the “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” he called it – Poizner trailed Whitman 59-11%; now, he said, eMeg’s lead has been cut to 38-28%.

Both candidates now have negative impression ratings, he said, eMeg’s favorable-to-unfavorable at 25-49% and Poizner’s at 30-39%. “The more the voters see of Meg Whitman, the less they like her and the more they see of Steve Poizner the more they like him,” said Stevens.

Whitman’s Murphy did not actually dispute the ballpark numbers presented by Newhouse.  “We are holding a strong lead but we’re running this campaign like we’re one point behind.” He said Whitman is a “lot closer” to holding 50% of the GOP vote than Poizner is and that Whitman’s lead is “a double-digit number.”

Message – Stevens said that Whitman’s message had been “muddled” – “they’re attacking Steve for not being conservative enough, but she’s never even said she’s a Republican” – and that Team eMeg had committed a  blunder by coming out of the box very early with negative attacks on Poizner instead of laying down a positive track. He said the Whitman campaign “made a strategic error attacking Steve so early” with ads that ridiculed, belittled and made fun of Poizner. “Voters have reacted very negatively to that,” he said, “they’ve been oversold.”

Stevens refused to say what Poizner’s mix of negative to positive ads would be.

It’s clear that Poizner will be seeking to dash against one of Whitman’s strongest arguments: inevitability; “I think it is remarkable that Whitman has failed to really lock down this race with the amount of spending she’s done so far,” said Newhouse. “It makes you wonder whether that can be corrected by spending even more money down the road. This race is still yet to be decided. We still have a lot of time left in this campaign. And voters are moving at a fairly rapid pace. If Whitman is unable to reverse this trend, then I think you are looking at a real upset here in the making.”

Murphy continued to argue inevitability. “We’re now in a debate over whether Steve Poizner will lose huge, lose medium, or lose a little tighter,” he said. “A vote for Poizner is really in many ways a vote for Jerry Brown because Commissioner Poizner has made himself completely unelectable in the general election.”

He said Whitman is “the only fiscal conservative” in the race and suggested that the campaign would be mailing strongly negative material about Poizner to voters in the coming days.

He also sought to turn Whitman’s Goldman Sachs taint back on Poizner. “The Goldman Sachs ad I know is a big spin item to the Poizner campaign but I don’t know I think it’s got to spin heavy and the full Goldman story has not been told,” Murphy said. He then threw out an allegation for which he offered not a shred of evidence: “I think Mr. Poizner should release his Goldman transactions during that time, during the tech boom when he was a wealthy individual there and I bet 50,000 that those returns would show that Steve Poizner participated in the same kind of IP shares that he’s accusing Meg Whitman of getting.”

Mechanics – The Whitman handlers stressed that their campaign has superior organization, including phone banks and  voter contact. In addition to endorsements like the Farm Bureau and former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, the campaign has built a huge volunteer structure, said consultant Jeff Randle.

“We are up and running in all 58 counties across the state,” he said. “ We have 15,000 committed volunteers that are out working for us at this stage of the campaign that’s more than any statewide campaign, gubernatorial campaign, that I’ve ever seen in this state. We’ve got phone banks going every night. We’ve got four field offices around the state: LA, Orange County, San Diego and the Bay Area. We started our volunteer program last night, we’ve made almost 100,000 phone calls in the first week. You’ll see yard signs popping up all over the state here in the next couple of days for Meg. On the stump you see crowds continue to grow, there’s excitement, there’s momentum, there’s buzz.”

Murphy predicted that a huge proportion of the electorate – 30-35% — would cast their votes as permanent absentees by the end of May suggesting that the notion that there’s still a lot of time left to move against Whitman is a fallacy.

Stevens mocked the notion that Whitman is “a grassroots candidate” and said the fact that Murphy was talking about process was a sign that their messaging had failed.

Jim Brulte, chairman of the Poizner campaign disputed Murphy’s assertion that a third of primary voters would cast ballots so early because of the many high-visibility propositions that voters will want to study before coming to a conclusion and mailing in their ballots.

Perhaps the most intriguing subject was one that was not discussed: unlike most other campaigns, there was no mention of fundraising, normally cited by campaigns as a marker of progress or success. With the two zillionaire squaring off, money is not obviously no object.

Calbuzz bottom line- The Republican race has now been joined and the big winner in yesterday’s spin war was the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Said Murphy, calling Poizner a “surrogate” for the attorney general and the labor unions: “The one person who’s enjoying this more than anyone else is Jerry Brown.”