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Posts Tagged ‘LA Times’



Why Gender Won’t Help GOP Women Candidates

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Published jointly today in the Los Angeles Times

The dual nomination of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina for governor and U.S. Senate in the state Republican primary was an historic event, but the candidates’ gender is unlikely to help them much in the November election.

The two became the first women ever chosen at the top of a GOP ticket in California, and their victories came amid much media discussion nationally about the breakthrough of “Republican feminists” and Sarah Palin’s excited forecast about the ascendancy of conservative “mamma grizzlies.”

However, a look back at California elections involving women candidates suggests that gender  won’t be a major factor in whether Fiorina or Whitman win or lose. Analysis of past voting data shows that:

– Party matters far more than gender in a general election.
– Gender matters most among independent women voters
– Neither Democratic nor independent women voters are likely to favor a candidate who is not pro-choice.

“Party, party, party,” answered Mark DiCamillo, director of the esteemed Field Poll, when asked if a candidates’ gender or partisan identification is more important in a general election.

“If you had to ask just one question that would predict how someone would vote, you’d want to ask their party,” he said.

Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, the chief strategist for Dianne Feinstein in 1990, when she became the first woman in California to win a major party’s nomination for governor, agreed:

“There’s no doubt that in candidate races the first and most salient factor in who you vote for is what political party do you belong to,” said Carrick, who also managed Feinstein’s historic campaign in 1992, when she and Barbara Boxer became the first female candidates to win a top office in the state, in what was dubbed the “Year of the Woman.”

In a late October Field Poll of the 1990 governor’s race, then-Republican Senator Pete Wilson led Feinstein, the former longtime mayor of San Francisco, by 47-39%, with 14% for others or undecided. At the time, he not only led 48-36% among men, who comprised 48 % of the electorate, but also 46-40% among women, who represented 52% of all voters.

At the time, Feinstein enjoyed relatively modest support within her own party, leading only 62-24% among Democrats. Wilson by contrast, led 76-12% among Republicans.

Days later, Wilson won the election 49-46%, as Feinstein gained considerable ground in the final days of the campaign; while there was no reliable exit poll on the race, it appears that many Democrats (a disproportionate number of whom are women), who had earlier held back, broke for their party’s candidate in the end.

Statistical support for that conclusion may be found in Los Angeles Times exit polling of the governor’s race four years later.

State Treasurer Kathleen Brown – the weakest Democratic candidate for governor in recent history – won 78% of her party’s vote in a bid against incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson, according to the survey. If Brown captured nearly eight in 10 Democrats in winning only 41% of the overall vote in 1994, it’s certain that Feinstein won at least as many with her stronger statewide performance four years earlier.

The 1994 Kathleen Brown-Pete Wilson race and the Feinstein-Michael Huffington Senate race the same year also offer clues about the relationship of party, gender and the abortion issue.

The pro-choice Wilson beat pro-choice Brown statewide by a resounding 55-41%. According to the Times exit poll, Wilson carried men 58-38% and women 52-43%, meaning Brown did somewhat better with women than with men.

But the numbers show that nearly all of the gender difference is explained by party.

Wilson won Republican men and women by 91-6% each and also carried independents: 57-34% among men and 54-39% among women; as she did among Democrats, Brown did somewhat better among independent women than she did with independent men.

Independents represented only about 16% of the electorate in 1994 (they are about 20% today). Brown’s pick-up of overall women voters was based on winning Democrats 78-19%, in a year when Democrats accounted for more than 4 in 10 voters (Democrats are now 44% of registered voters) and the party’s voting ranks included considerably more women than men.

The same year, Feinstein barely beat Huffington, 47-45%. A key difference between Kathleen Brown and Feinstein in 1994, however, was that the Senator attracted larger numbers of independent women and even made some inroads among Republican women,

Like Wilson, Huffington was pro-choice. Feinstein won 83% of Democratic men and 84% of women Democrats, while Huffington carried 83% of GOP men but just 75% of the party’s women. She won independent women, 51-36%, while independent men favored him 44-39%.

So Feinstein ran stronger with women voters than men, both among Republicans and independents – even though both candidates were pro-choice. This shows that it’s possible for a Democratic woman to pull some votes from the opposite party and from independents based on gender, in a race where abortion rights are not a determinative factor.

The 2010 Senate race pits the strongly pro-life Fiorina against the fiercely pro-choice Boxer. Since both are women, gender is likely to play even less of a role than usual. And Fiorina will have a tough battle,  as no pro-life candidate has won at the top of the ticket (president, governor or senator) in California since 1988, when George Bush beat Michael Dukakis.

The Whitman-Brown race is a different matter. “For a socially moderate, pro-choice woman like Meg Whitman, there’s some segment of the electorate that will take a closer look at her than they would if it were a white male with the same positions on the issues,” said political consultant Garry South, who guided Democrat Gray Davis to his gubernatorial victory in 1998 1994.

Running against the pro-choice Jerry Brown, however, Whitman will likely find it difficult to woo Democratic women voters to her side, just as Kathleen Brown could not lure Republican women away from Wilson in 1994. The Feinstein-Huffington race suggests, however, that Whitman’s gender could help her among independent women who are not aligned with Democratic positions on other issues.

The single greatest uncertainty in the governor’s race, however, may not be a function of gender or party, but of money. Said South, noting Whitman’s prediction of how much of her personal fortune she may spend: “There’s no playbook for somebody who’s going to spend $150 million.”

Goldman Sachs: A Case of False Equivalence

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

One of the more persistently perverse practices of MSM journalism is the “false equivalence fallacy,” a technique too often seen in political stories, when reporters aim for even-handed balance but end up badly misleading readers.

A case study is the L.A. Times Saturday Sunday story, which posed “a phony evenhandedness,” as Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post once described false equivalence, between the connections of Meg Whitman and of Jerry Brown to the scandal-tainted investment bank Goldman Sachs.

A false equivalence fallacy occurs when someone falsely equates an act by one party as being equally egregious to that of another without taking into account the underlying differences which may make the comparison patently invalid.

In presenting an apples-and-oranges framework about the Goldman Sachs issue in the California governor’s race, the Times recalled political stories from the 2004 presidential race that matched unfounded charges about John Kerry’s record in Vietnam, where he won three Purple Hearts, with still-unanswered documentary questions about the service of George Bush in the National Guard or, more recently, cable TV shows that set up on-the-one-hand-on-the-other “debates” that include whack job “birthers” who charge that Obama was not born in the U.S.

Sometimes, attempts to present “balance” using the thin thread of commonality — e.g. Goldman Sachs — are wholly misleading. There really is an unbalance of connection and/or impropriety. One thing is actually more damning than the other and they cannot and should not be equated. This is a false equivalency.

Whitman’s links to Goldman Sachs are primary connections, which directly benefited her financially, both personally and politically; Brown’s are  secondary, at best, involving his sister’s employment at the firm and a complex policy decision about bond financing interest rates in Oakland, which was made a year before he was elected mayor there, which appears actually to have benefited the city during much of his tenure, and over which he had no direct control anyway.

Yet the Times story – online hed: “Whitman, Brown have ties to Goldman Sachs” – sends a clear message that these are matters of equal political weight, at a time when the bank has been charged with fraud by the SEC. Let’s look at the details:

Whitman’s connections to Goldman have been chronicled in detail by Lance Williams and Carla Marinucci.

1-Spinning. As CEO of eBay she steered millions of her company’s business to Goldman, a period in which she also engaged in “spinning,” a now-illegal insider stock deal in which the investment bank paved the way for her to buy early shares of hot IPOs. She was named in a congressional investigation of the practice and forced to return money she made from the deals to eBay after shareholders sued her. Her explanation: “It wasn’t illegal at the time.”

2-Directorship. Whitman was paid the equivalent of $475,000 in cash and stock options when she sat on Goldman’s board of directors for 15 months in 2001 and 2002. Among other actions, she served on the compensation committee, when it approved huge bonuses for Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, and its previous chief executive, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen, who oversaw the era of credit default swaps and consolidated debt obligations which is now the focus of the SEC fraud suit.

3-Contributions. Whitman has received at least $105,500 in contributions from Goldman executives to her campaign for governor, according to the Williams-Marinucci investigation.

Brown’s connections to Goldman, as set forth by Michael Rothfeld in the LAT:

1-Family. His sister, former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, has worked for the bank since 2003, a family factoid that gains no elaboration, or further traction, in Rothfeld’s story as reflecting critically on Jerry Brown.

2-Oakland. A year before Brown took office as mayor, city officials did a deal with Goldman, known as an “interest rate swap,” in order to “guarantee Oakland stability in its debt payment,” according to Rothfeld. City officials renegotiated it in 2003 (before Kathleen went to work for Goldman BTW), paid off Goldman’s debt in 2005, but left the interest deal in place because canceling it would have cost $15 million, which was then considered a bad deal for the city.

At the time, Brown’s involvement consisted of a) being the non-voting president of the Oakland Joint Powers Financing Authority, which handled the negotiation and b) appointing the administrator in charge of borrowing for the city.  The Times story never even hints that Brown had anything to gain from the deal, even if he had had authority over it, and completely equivocates on the broader issue of whether or not it’s been a good deal for Oakland.

Today, because interest rates plummeted amid the Wall Street meltdown, the deal with Goldman is costing Oakland about $5 million a year, the story notes, but then adds this: “Oakland and Goldman officials say they believe the swap has benefited Oakland overall, though they provided no statistics to show that.”

Uh, so what exactly has Brown got out of his ballyhooed-by-the-Times  “connections” to Goldman Sachs?

Despite the total false equivalence between eMeg and Crusty’s* dealings with the investment bank, Rothfeld gave Whitman flack Tucker Bound a free hand to muddy the waters on an issue that threatens Whitman, allowing him to spin the non-event of Brown’s Goldman ties into the biggest scandal since Teapot Dome: “No matter how you look at it, Jerry and his sister were on both ends of a bad deal for taxpayers, and Goldman Sachs pocketed millions.”

Puh-leeze.

Fortunately for the Times, business columnist Michael Hiltzik presented a clearer-eyed view of the matter in a Sunday same day piece that recaps Whitman’s personal connections to the bank and drills down on the noxious “spinning” issue.

Yet the issue here isn’t anyone’s family connections or routine investments but Whitman’s acceptance of preferential treatment from a firm angling to do business with her employer…

As for her claim that no one ever suggested there was anything untoward about preferential allocations, not so. Financial regulators had been warning brokers for years that it was wrong to hand out hoards of IPO shares “to reward persons who could otherwise direct business to them.” Although that rule was directed at the brokers, not their customers, surely Whitman understood the concept of aiding and abetting. To avoid further confusion, the Securities and Exchange Commission later spelled out the rules: Offering such deals is now illegal.

And thank you for that.

P.S. For further understanding of what’s wrong with “spinning,” see the definitive Calbuzz piece by David Shapiro, a specialist on financial fraud at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

* For the record, Calbuzz recognizes that the Simpsons character Herschel Krustofski, AKA Krusty the Clown and the Maitre d’ of Glee is spelled with a “K.” Our Department of Etymology and Copyright Infringement  is studying whether it would be appropriate to alter the spelling of “Crusty the General.”

100 Days Out: Three Key Questions for Gov’s Race

Monday, March 1st, 2010

This story is also being published today in the Los Angeles Times.

One hundred days before the June 8 primary election, the race for governor of California has taken shape, but the outcome won’t be clear without answers to three key questions.

Dianne Feinstein’s announcement late last month that she won’t run leaves Attorney General Jerry Brown as the Democrats’ presumptive nominee – with his formal announcement of candidacy expected any day now.

Republicans still have a two-person contest, although former eBay chief Meg Whitman at the moment is overwhelming her rival, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, by all conventional political measures – polls, money and campaign organization.

At a time when a huge majority of voters say California is on the wrong track and express deep anxieties about their economic prospects, the crucial challenge for all three candidates is to demonstrate they have the ideas and abilities to lead state government in helping to improve economic conditions.

For this trio, that task is especially daunting, because front-runners Brown and Whitman represent perhaps the two most reviled cultural icons of the moment – the career politician and the career CEO – while Poizner splits the difference, with a foot in both worlds. Here is a look at the fundamental question for each candidate.

Which Jerry Brown will show up?

When Feinstein called Brown on Feb. 17 to say she’d firmly decided not to seek the Democratic nomination for governor, his first reaction was disappointment: He was kind of hoping she would run, Brown said, so he didn’t have to.

The once and maybe-future governor’s comment,  as reported by the Orange County Register, was no doubt a joke. But Freud never sleeps. Brown’s hesitation to jump into the governor’s race with enthusiasm and energy reflects an ambivalence which has been a hallmark of his political persona.

Facing a March 12 deadline for formally declaring his candidacy, Brown has yet to articulate a clear rationale for why he wants the job. He recently began a much-panned speech to supporters with this telling equivocation: “I was thinking tonight, I was trying to figure out that if I did announce, what the hell would I say?”

At 71, Brown is attempting to retake the office he held at 36, which would give him the historic distinction of serving  as both California’s youngest and California’s oldest governor. His decades of political shape-shifting provide him a host of campaign memes and identities from which to choose.

What strategic message will he articulate? Will voters see the fiery prairie populist, shaking his fist at banks and corporate interests? The savvy, world-weary work hand, who understands better than anyone how to repair the broken machinery of government? Or the avuncular senior statesman, whose age-foreshortened ambitions position him to make painful choices other politicians cannot?

Brown’s played out the string as long as he can. It’s time for him to explain why he wants to be governor and what he would do in office. Again.

Does Meg Whitman have a glass jaw?

Republican Whitman has shrewdly positioned herself as the GOP front-runner with an elusive and chimerical strategy consisting of tightly controlled campaign events and high-profile national media interviews; avoidance of debates with rivals and most no-holds-barred interviews with California reporters. And she has spent more money than any previous candidate at this point in a California race.

Having already spent $39 million, much of it from her own personal fortune, Whitman has soared in the polls. But she now faces increasing questions and political pressures about her lack of transparency and unwillingness to face the humiliating rituals of press and public inspection to which political candidates routinely submit to win the privilege of governance.

Take the current flap over her refusal to date to release her tax returns: Ignoring the calls of a Democrat-affiliated campaign committee, she has resisted making a full disclosure of her personal financial data. This controversy follows earlier disputes over her refusal to debate Poizner – she has finally consented to one two televised encounters before the primary – and her rejection of most substantive interview requests from state-based journalists.

Taken together, these actions have made her look high-handed, secretive and contemptuous of the public process, raising questions about her ability to withstand, not only the rigors of hand-to-hand political combat, but also a close examination of her finances, background and suitability for office. As one pro-Brown e-mail asked this week, “What does Meg Whitman have to hide?”

Will Poizner mount a serious campaign?

For more than a year, Poizner has conducted a classic insider political campaign, doing the hard political work of building a network of local supporters across the state, introducing himself at drop-bys and meet-and-greets, editorial board meetings and talk shows, and preparing issue papers and policy proposals.

In normal times, it might have worked. But Whitman’s extraordinary spending, used strategically on an effective radio and TV advertising effort, has made Poizner’s campaign of tactics look all but irrelevant, as he lags far her behind in the polls and lacks widespread name identification.

The only Republican candidate beside Arnold Schwarzenegger to win statewide office in the last decade, the Insurance Commissioner, like Whitman, was also a Silicon Valley success story, earning his fortune at a company that made GPS devices for cell phones. Unlike Whitman, however, Poizner has husbanded his resources in the governor’s race, holding back on spending for media while insisting his tortoise-and-hare approach would prevail in the end.

But as a raft of former endorsers have jumped ship to Whitman, he’s been forced to deny chronic rumors that he’s about to drop out. And Poizner now finds himself buried in the polls beneath Whitman’s money and his own indecisiveness. Expected to begin his ad campaign soon, he’s running out of time to break through to voters, a large majority of whom have never heard of him.

So, with 100 days to go, the identity of the next governor will be found in the answers: Can Steve get it on? Can Meg take a punch? Which Jerry will come to the party?