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Five Ways eMeg Blew Her Campaign for Governor

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

In June 2009, a few months after she launched her campaign to become governor of California, Meg Whitman abruptly fired Nicky Diaz Santillan, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had served as her housekeeper for nine years.

No one knew it at the time, but Whitman’s words and action in the privacy of her home on June 20, and on the phone four days later, would sow the seeds of her political loss, a debacle that will define her forever as the billionaire who spent more money on a political race than anyone in history and won nothing but a humiliating defeat.

Recollections differ sharply about exactly what happened when Whitman sent Diaz packing. The former eBay CEO insisted she was gracious and caring toward someone she saw as a “member of her extended family.” It broke her heart, she said at one point; only later did she suggest Nicky  should be deported.

At a Sept. 29 press conference with LA Ambulance Chaser Gloria Allred, Diaz said Whitman was cruel and heartless and insisted that her lawyer had told her there was nothing to be done.

“From now on, you don’t know me and I don’t know you,” Diaz said Whitman told her on the phone. “You never have seen me and I have never seen you.”

What Nicky revealed about Meg: The precise details of the episode may remain fuzzy – but its political impact is crystal clear. In the end, the Diaz story dealt two grave wounds that doomed Whitman’s candidacy:

First, the Republican nominee’s memorable Oct. 1 press conference responding to Diaz’s allegations was a public relations disaster. A real-time, real-life event, it was one of only a handful of times that California voters would see Whitman in public, outside of the carefully scripted and controlled campaign events or the unprecedented barrage of TV ads that she beamed into their living rooms. And polls would show that the unfavorable image they already had of the candidate would only grow more negative.

More broadly, Whitman’s handling of the Diaz affair – and her improbable insistence that she had no idea that Diaz was illegal and baseless accusation that Nicky stole the mail — underscored a central failing of her $160+ million effort. Ralph Whitehead of the University of Massachusetts once explained that in an executive leader, voters look for someone with a hard head and a soft heart. Whitman surely passed the first test. But her handling of Nicky Diaz – which had already occurred and could not be fixed – exposed her as a rich woman with the hardest of hearts.

She might, back then, have mitigated the damage that came later if she had done what most human beings would do for someone who had cleaned their toilets for nine years: hire her an immigration attorney, give her severance pay, help her find a new job. Whitman did none of those things. Voters – especially Latinos and women – concluded she was, at best, not like them and, at worst, inhuman.

“I could not be any prouder of the race we ran,” Whitman said in a farewell letter to supporters on her campaign web page. It’s a typical statement from a woman who could never admit a mistake, whether it was flipping IPO shares, booting her maid to the curb or refusing to pull down her negative ads when implored to do so in front of 14,000 women.

Because Whitman’s debacle cost an unprecedented sum – including about $142 million of her own money – it will be endlessly dissected by pundits, pros and political scientists alike. Calbuzz covered the race for 20 months, and our archive is filled with reporting, analysis and candid commentary about what we saw as its weaknesses from the beginning. Here is a look at eMeg’s five biggest blunders:

-She never gave people a reason to be for her. At some point, some determined academic will calculate the percentage of negative to positive ads that Whitman ran. Our bet is that at least three-fourths were attacks, first on her primary opponent Steve Poizner and later on Jerry Brown.

Whitman came out swinging early last winter against Poizner, long before most Californians had any idea who Steve Poizner was. After she captured the GOP nomination in June, she almost immediately started bashing Brown. The net effect: the first thing that many people came to learn about Meg Whitman was that she was mean-spirited.

The Murphy-Stutzman-Gomez consultant brain trust programmed their meal ticket to chant jobs, budget and education, which she did. These were to be the decisive issues that would drive Whitman to victory. What they overlooked was that they were running a billionaire newcomer who could not connect by eating chili dogs and traveling in a green bus.

Whitman needed to convince voters of the most critical question that Brown’s pollster, Jim Moore, asks in surveys: Which candidate best fits this description — Has the knowledge and skill to be governor?

But beyond endlessly identifying herself as the person who ran eBay, the Whitman campaign never really introduced their candidate to voters, never gave Californians more than a mantra of political platitudes and a few quick images of her and her husband when they were younger.

Who, in the end, was she? Why hadn’t she voted for 28 years? How come she’d never been engaged in a single civic project? Why did she lie about things she had no reason to lie about – like how government interference slowed down building a new headquarters for Pay Pal, or her position on offshore oil drilling or whether one of her ads included a shot of a border fence?

Calbuzz christened her “eMeg” at the beginning of the race and, in a very real sense, she never told us more about herself than that, which may be why the name stuck, and spread into publications across the country.

-She couldn’t handle the immigration issue. One of the big unanswered questions about the campaign remains what Whitman’s handlers knew about the Diaz matter and when they knew it. Either she told them the full details of the matter and they did nothing about it, which would amount to political malpractice on their part, or she kept the story to herself, which would amount to felony stupidity on her part.

After Whitman told reporters that she had informed her top advisers about the Nicky Diaz events, Calbuzz tried to ask her consultants what they’d been told and when. That’s when her top people stopped speaking to Calbuzz at all. That was more than a month ago. There was no way to answer our question without throwing either themselves or their candidate under the bus. So they just froze us out until we said we wouldn’t ask the question any more.

One of the reasons that the Diaz issue gained such traction was that Whitman offered up a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of positions on illegal immigration. When Poizner made it the centerpiece of his primary campaign, she tacked hard right, enlisting campaign chairman Pete Wilson – the former governor known on the streets of Mexico City as hijo de puta — to cut an ad declaring she would be “tough as nails.” But as soon as the primary ended, she lurched back to the center, with an expensive effort to woo Latino voters, a baldly transparent move that came across as crass opportunism, if not utter hypocrisy.

Once the personal became enmeshed with the political on the issue, she could never untangle herself. She couldn’t help Nicky Diaz become legal because she had taken a stand against a path to citizenship – a policy endorsed by most California voters, including about nine in 10 Latinos.

And she made matters much worse at the Univision debate in Fresno when she told a young Mexican-born woman – valedictorian in her high-school class about to graduate from Fresno State – that she was taking the place at the university of a legitimate California citizen. Any non-white parent hearing that would have been appalled at her utter lack of compassion.

No wonder the LA Times reported that exit polls found Latinos voted 2-to-1 for Brown.

-She didn’t have dinner with Calbuzz. Our standing dinner invitation to eMeg, first issued on Labor Day 2009, became a running joke on our site and elsewhere. But her refusal to sit down with us in an informal setting came to symbolize something greater – a contempt for the press in general, founded on her arrogant belief that she had enough money and power to go over the heads of the media.

Whitman gave an interview to Michael Finnegan of the LA Times the day after she announced her candidacy, and she made several stumbles in it, as he pointed out. For whatever reason, she reacted to that experience not by seeking to learn from her mistakes, but by walling herself from the press forever.

Far more serious than stiffing us for dinner was her refusal throughout the campaign to grant an interview to the venerable San Francisco Chronicle, the second largest newspaper in the state; when she refused to meet with the paper’s editorial board, as every candidate for governor in memory has done, it evinced nothing more than contempt, if not abject fear.

The press corps roiled with tales of interview requests ignored or turned down and, at one point, she even refused to answer questions at a press conference she had called. The net effect was to send a message that Whitman had something to hide, that she was afraid to engage in the normal give and take between politicians and reporters, and it raised suspicions among voters.

Not that anyone in the real world cares about whether reporters have access. They don’t mind if a candidate stiffs the media, if she speaks to them, mingles with them, does something other than staged events with phony, planted questions. People care about media access only to the extent that it’s a surrogate for their access

With her retinue of consultants, pollsters and handlers, Whitman presented herself to the public as being more important and too insulated to understand people like them. It is telling that the California Nurses Association character of Queen Meg, who followed her around the state, drove eMeg crazy, because it cut too close to the truth.

Worse, according to a variety of political consultants from the left and right, Whitman’s failure to get out among the media early in the campaign, where she could make mistakes and learn from them, rendered her brittle and unstable at the end of the campaign, when she needed to be sure on her feet. Whitman’s consultants failed to help her handle the unscripted moments of the campaign — and it was in those moments that voters saw who she really is.

The ultimate example occurred at the Women’s Conference in Long Beach, where she managed to get herself booed by 14,000 women by her mishandling of an idiotic proposal from the “Today Show’s” Matt Lauer to take down her negative advertising. “Of course I will, Matt,” she could have said. “As soon as Jerry Brown Inc. takes down their attack ads on me.”  A seasoned pro could have knocked it out of the park. Just days before the election, she was still a rookie.

When it became clear in the final weeks of the campaign that she was losing, she resorted to driving around in a bus and ordering junk food at diners in a by now pathetically too late effort to “reintroduce” herself to the public.

-She ran only one memorable ad and that blew up in her face. It is astonishing that Whitman spent more than $100 million on paid television advertising and even those of us who covered the campaign would be hard pressed to recall any of them that penetrated.

The sole exception was an ad she put up after Labor Day featuring an excerpt from a 1992 presidential primary debate between Brown and Bill Clinton, in which Clinton attacks Brown on many of the same issues Whitman was trying to press.

At first it looked like a killer ad. But when Brown and his fellow Democrats quickly produced, first, a statement from Clinton and then the former president himself to back Brown and assail Whitman for misusing the comments, it backfired on her. Things went from bad to worse when the former CNN reporter whose long-ago TV story was the basis for the whole controversy came forward to say he’d made a big factual error – and Whitman still refused to take down her ad.

This was a Big Moment in the campaign because it shifted the ground precisely where Team eMeg did not want the campaign to go – away from issues and toward character. The ad was mainly about the issues, in particular Proposition 13 and taxes, and secondarily about Brown’s truthfulness. Here was an icon of the Democratic Party saying Jerry Brown could not be trusted on taxes and spending. That was the single most dangerous charge Brown faced. But the ad turned out to be an exploding cigar. When Clinton repudiated it and Whitman defended it anyway, the story shifted to “liar, liar, pants on fire.” And what Team eMeg did NOT want was a campaign about Whitman’s character.

No one should have been surprised that the LATimes/USC survey found that among likely voters Brown had her beat 2-1 when rated on the quality of “tells the truth.”

-She ran as a brand and over-saturated the market. Months ago, Brown’s campaign manager Steve Glazer predicted to us that the race would be about authenticity, with Whitman, fundamentally a marketing executive whose closest confidant, Henry Gomez, was also a marketing guy, trying to brand herself and Brown, a lifelong public official, running as the real deal.

Calbuzz recognized the danger presented by Whitman’s unlimited marketing budget when we laid out how the “standard quantum limit” could inevitably affect perceptions of voters in a political campaign – even one as big as a California governor’s race.

“Some among the cognoscenti wonder if voters will, at some point, find a chalk-on-a-blackboard cognitive dissonance created by a candidate who spends with no limits  to become  governor in order to cut spending,” we wrote back in April.

“Others suggest that as Whitman’s spending keeps growing exponentially, it will bump up against some outer limit where cash begins to have diminishing returns, or even a negative impact, as voters find repulsive her free-spending ways amid the state’s worst recession in a generation.”

Lo and behold, that’s what happened. Whitman’s advertising became so ubiquitous, so intrusive, that voters found her in their living rooms, uninvited, at all hours of the day and night. It didn’t take long before Whitman’s branding campaign ran up against another scientific principle: The T Factor.

This strong force, according to the Calbuzz Department of Weights and Measures, is based on the power of  Tivo to mute and completely skip advertisements, especially nauseating political spots; it is greater than, or equal to, a voter’s curiosity about what an ad might have to say. (This is represented by the formula T≥b*X, where b=bullshit and X=off.)

Certain political consultants will, of course, dismiss this theorem out of hand because if candidates were to believe it, they would make less money. But not only did Whitman’s advertising over-saturate the market (diminishing exponentially the stickiness of later ads) but they actually fed Brown’s narrative about her: that she was a greedy billionaire with too much money to spend and too little respect for ordinary people.

Every new ad had to overcome that revulsion before its content had a chance of being heard and processed. And in the end, voters just tuned her out.

eMeg’s Historic Meltdown: Woman Booed by Women

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

LONG BEACH  — Handed a splendid opportunity to portray her campaign as an historic event for women in politics, Meg Whitman made a different kind of history on Tuesday.

Campaigning to become California’s first female governor, Republican Whitman accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of getting roundly booed by a non-partisan audience of 14,000 women gathered to, um, celebrate the accomplishments of women.

In a remarkable few moments of unscripted political theater, eMeg turned cheers to jeers at the California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, as she fumbled and stumbled through an excruciatingly awkward exchange about TV attack ads with Democratic rival Jerry Brown and NBC’s Matt Lauer, who moderated the unusual session, which also included outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As on two previous occasions when she was forced to react in real time outside the accustomed comfort of her campaign cocoon – her famously awful 2009 press conference when she tried to defend her decades-long failure to vote and the presser she convened a few weeks ago to answer questions about employing an undocumented housekeeper for nine years –  eMeg on Tuesday displayed a rare combination of political tone deafness and an utter inability to think on her feet.

By the time the fireworks ended, Whitman had not only failed to take advantage of a chance to boost her sagging standing among women voters, a week before the Nov. 2 election, but also succeeded in making her male opponent look good.

In the process, she managed to embarrass herself with a thoroughly dopey performance before the state’s political press corps and most of the TV cameras south of the Tehachapis, making major campaign news out of what should have been a feel-good appearance at a touchy-feely event.

How it started: The drama began near the end of the live session with the governor and the two candidates who want to succeed him, as Lauer — who demonstrated he knows absolutely NOTHING about politics — shamelessly sought to play to the kumbaya crowd with a horseshit, goody-goody question.

First decrying the negative ads that both sides have run – which, Lauer emoted, have created a “bloodbath” (puh-leeze) – he asked:

“Would either of you, or both of you, be willing to make a pledge that you would end the negativity? [Big cheer] Would you pull your negative ads and replace them with positive ads and talk to the surrogate groups as well [which would be ILLEGAL, you jackass, which is why they're called independent expenditures] and express that to them, that you want only positive message out there to give the people of California a break and let them decide what really matters. Would either of you accept that?”

It was a totally inappropriate question and actually unfair to Whitman, who is behind in all the public polls and has no choice in a tough campaign in which she’s invested $140 million of her own money, but to try to pull voters away from Brown. In any event, that’s her decision. And Lauer had no business sticking his scrawny ass into the campaign and trying to broker some deal because he thinks that’s how the game should be played. If he knew anything about politics in general and California politics in particular he would not have asked such a dimwit question.

But the women in the audience, who spent the day applauding the inspirational good works of poets, playwrights, Supreme Court justices — not to mention Oprah Winfrey and conference convener and California First Lady Maria Shriver — thundered their approval.

Round One: Brown answered first, venturing forth with a Buddhist-tinged meditation on the subjective nature of reality — “First of all you have to remember, negativity is in the eye of the beholder . . .” –drawing scattered boos and hoots. But Brown’s political antennae suddenly tuned in — “Oh yeah,” he must have thought, “I’m AHEAD, I can afford to go all positive if she does” — and with head-snapping alacrity, he switched direction:  “. . . but if Meg wants to do that, I’ll be glad to do that.”

Cheers.

Then eMeg started digging herself in, trying to draw a bright line distinction between her negative ads – true, honorable and all about the issues – and Brown’s negative ads – false, unfair personal assaults on her sterling character. Sez her.

“The character attacks, the attacks of personal destruction, the attacks on one’s character I think are very different than a debate on the issues. It’s OK that Jerry Brown and I disagree, for example, about the capital gains tax – something I think should be eliminated and he doesn’t. It’s OK to have a discussion around the issues,” Whitman argued. “What I have found very challenging, and I’ll be honest about it, is the personal attacks. The things that I have been called in this campaign – it’s not fair to the voters of California, it isn’t the right thing to do…”

Lauer broke in and got up on his New York know-nothing high horse: “There’s been enough slurs and housekeepers. We know you are both flawed people. Everybody in this room is flawed…But what is going to accomplish what Gov. Schwarzenegger is talking about – taking California to the next step, financially in particular, is going to be your strengths not your weaknesses. And I’m asking again, will you both pledge? I’ll give you 24 hours because I know the wheels of a campaign don’t stop overnight,” he said, as if he actually knew anything about how campaigns operate.

Round Two: Brown, quick as ever, joined Lauer’s game: “Let’s be clear about it: if she takes her negative ads, reasonably defined, I’ll take mine off. No question. We do it together. No problem. . . . I pledge that right now.” Krusty was in for a dime, in for a dollar, eliciting big cheers from the ladies at lunch.

But Meg kept digging, trying to parse and finesse the question before an audience that was in full bay for promises of sweetness and light.

“So here’s what I will do,” she said. “I’ll take down any ad that could even be remotely construed as a personal attack. But I don’t think we can take down the ads that talk about where Gov. Brown stands on the issues. I just think it’s not the right thing to do.”

Booooo, hisssss, hoooot….

Lauer said people seem to be asking for more.  And Brown smelled blood in the water.

“I’ve got one nice ad where I look into the camera and I just say what I’m for,” he said, ever so reasonably to Whitman. “You have a very nice ad where you look into the camera – it’s a pretty good ad by the way. We’ll leave up one and let all the other ones go off. I’ll agree to that right now.”

Lauer tried to seal the deal but Whitman froze. “Let me try a different approach…” he said, when Brown jumped in, offering Whitman a lifeline: “You know, I don’t think it’s quite fair, to [have to] make a decision in the face of all this,” he said, sounding ever so gentle.

Round three: Lauer said he’d studied the polls [right] before he came to California and “some could say what you’ve tried to this point isn’t completely working, why not try a different course,” he lectured Whitman. “And Gov. Brown, some could say if you do believe the polls and you’re leading, I would imagine you wouldn’t only want to think it’s because you diminished your opponent, correct, so get rid of all those things” — which was doubly stupid because 1) Brown is happy to diminish his opponent and 2) he’d already agreed to Lauer’s dumbass proposal.

But Whitman kept digging:

“I think it’s important because I’m new to politics. People need to know where I stand and also they need to know Jerry Brown has been in politics for 40 years and there’s a long track record there and I want to make sure people really understand what’s going on.

“And I’m not doing it in a mean-spirited way. [Guffaws in the press tent] I just think it’s important for people to really understand what the track record was in Oakland, what the track record was as governor,” she said, while audience members started searching for overripe vegetables to throw.

His lifeline rejected, Brown decided to go in for the kill: “I’ve got a great ad. It starts off with Meg Whitman saying I moved to California 30 years ago because it was such a great place with all this opportunity. And then the ad says, and who was governor?”

Huge uproarious laughter and whooping in the press tent.

Did Meg stop digging? No way. “What you need to know is that in many ways, Jerry Brown left the state in worse shape than he did (sic) when he inherited it,” she said.

Booooooo…

[Capsule clip here]

End Game: Lauer was worried he was going too long until Schwarzenegger told him the conference was his and Maria’s and he shouldn’t schvitz (sweat) the extra minutes. And then he said nice things about Meg, nice things about Jerry and also rapped Meg with the back of his hand,  implicitly defending his record against her constant refrain that she as governor would make California “golden again.”

“I happen to disagree with Meg a little bit,” the governor said. “California is going to be a golden state once again? California is a golden state!”

Bottom line: eMeg should have listened to Calbuzz and played the gender card. Everything leading up to that moment was all about how it’s time for a woman. Instead, she spun gold into straw.

The mistress of swag: Before the fun started, the Calbuzz Department of Consumer Affairs and Worthless Tchotchke Collections was privileged to receive an extraordinary guided tour of the exhibit hall where conference sponsors and vendors were hawking their wares.

Our guide, a prominent MSM reporter whose name is withheld to avoid embarrassing her family, led us on an expedition that netted products ranging from hand sanitizers, body lotions and KY “intensity cream” samples to miniature flashlights from SoCal Edison, cardio stent stress squeeze balls and countless varieties of health bars from a host of fruit and nut manufacturers.

Best score: A package of postcards trumpeting all 125 careers that Barbie has engaged in over the years of her existence, including TV newswoman Barbie.

How eMeg Should Play Gender; Rove Boosts Lungren

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

LONG BEACH — When Gov. Schwarzenegger, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown join Matt Lauer, host of the “Today Show,”  for a four-way here today at Maria Shriver’s star-studded Women’s Conference, it’s supposed to be a civil, genteel, collegial discussion of the problems facing the Great State of California titled “Who We Are, Where We Are Going.” Isn’t that nice?

But for eMeg — who is trailing in all the public polls just one week before the election — it’s a last chance to squeeze off a big, fat, juicy sound bite that gets played all over the state and the country. And maybe — if Krusty sticks his smug, condescending foot in his mouth — she could put Brown on the defensive.

Jerry will be in protect-the-ball mode and Schwarzmuscle will probably be cruising on automatic statesman (unless he gets asked why he hasn’t endorsed fellow Republican Meg). So the big question is whether Whitman will break the rules and attack or challenge Brown.

Now, Team Whitman hasn’t listened to anything Calbuzz has ever suggested and they pretty much regard us as bad cheese (NB: we asked her to dinner and for an interview but never got either). But still we humbly offer this suggestion: Meg should say something like, “So, Jerry Brown has a long, long career working in the public sector, but you know what — it’s time for a woman to be governor. And I’m ready to do the job.” Or some such.

What’s Gandalf going to say? “No it’s not time for a woman. It’s time for a 72-year-old white guy.”

We kinda doubt eMeg will play the gender card. If she had wanted to, she could have put a gazillion dollars behind it in a TV ad. Feminism isn’t really in her wheelhouse. And as we wrote back in June, party is a much stronger motivator of the vote than is gender. But these are desperate times. She’s way behind among women voters and a rank appeal to sisterhood just might help — especially if she’s actually as close as her advisers have been furiously spinning in the past few days.

Whatever happens, the entire National Affairs Desk of Calbuzz — sparing no cost or effort — is here in Long Beach to capture the flavor and texture of the moment. If there is one. Otherwise, we’re just going to lunch.

How Rove Is Helping Lungren: Here’s a Special to Calbuzz from Mackenzie Weinger,  one of our vast array of political writers in Washington.

The number one target among House races for American Crossroads, Karl Rove’s so-called “Super PAC, is California’s 3rd congressional district.

American Crossroads recently made a $682,323 ad buy against physician Ami Bera (D), who is challenging Rep. Dan Lungren (R) in one of the state’s few close races. While the group has dumped millions into several Senate races across the country, this buy marks its biggest investment in any House campaign.

“It’s the biggest House buy, but it’s also the single most expensive media market we’ve purchased time in for the House,” American Crossroads spokesperson Jonathan Collegio told Calbuzz. “In terms of voter impression, it’s equal to most of our other efforts.”

Lucinda Guinn, Bera’s campaign manager, said the IE buy, although not coordinated with the Lungren campaign, should give residents an insight into the incumbent Republican’s priorities.

“We’ve mounted a very serious challenge to a career politician who didn’t see it coming, and now his big oil buddies and special interest friends are coming to bail him out because he’s nervous,” Guinn told us.

Attack ads from the rival’s campaigns have been hitting TV screens for weeks now, but American Crossroads’ is the biggest independent spending in the district’s media market.

Lungren released an ad this week, “Who is Ami Bera?”, calling Bera Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “handpicked candidate”— an attack that Republicans across the country are using. As for Bera, he made a splash earlier this month with “Shirts,” an ad that criticized Lungren for attending a 2008 conference in Hawaii with campaign funds. Although the trip was cleared by the House Ethics Committee, Bera’s campaign alleges Lungren exploited a loophole for a free vacation.

That’s just part of the Bera campaign’s focus on Lungren and campaign finance. The real concern, Guinn says, is what would happen if Republicans take the House on Nov. 2 and Lungren wins the Third District: as the ranking GOPer on the Committee on House Administration, Lungren is in line to become its chair.

“He would have jurisdiction over campaign finance regulation,” she noted. “He’s been looking out for his own folks for a long time – for big oil, Wall Street and his special interest friends.”

With his vote against the DISCLOSE Act and the recent influx of outside spending, Guinn said that “Lungren claims he supports campaign finance transparency, but he’s not saying anything about Karl Rove coming in” to the district.

“Outside groups and Karl Rove showing up in your living room is not what Californians care about,” she said.

Bera has written a blog post about Lungren and campaign finances that’s been making the rounds on the Internet. He writes that “Rove’s shadowy slush fund” is “hoping to hijack our election through false and misleading advertising.” Bera, who reported $448,859 cash on hand for the most recent filing period, is set to debut a new ad sometime this week, Guinn said.

But America Crossroads operative Collegio said that Lungren is the one under attack by special interests in the toss-up race.

“Lungren is heavily targeted by a well-funded opponent and a number of labor groups who wanted to defeat him in the general, and we believe our efforts serve a good balancing effect in the dynamics of the race,” he said.

He said the district is a critical one for Republicans, and added that the organization may release a new ad there this week.

“Every competitive race for control of the house is important, and while most of the focus has been on Republican pickups, it’s equally important to protect incumbents, especially when they’ve come under attack by outside organizations,” he said.

Check out the American Crossroads ad attacking Bera on health care reform:

Announcer: Not only does Ami Bera support Obamacare, he says it doesn’t go far enough. Obamacare’s $525B in job killing taxes isn’t far enough? The higher insurance premiums aren’t far enough? How about the $500B cut from Medicare? And reduced benefits for over 1.5 million California seniors? Ami Bera and Obamacare – They’re bad medicine for California. American Crossroads is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Speaking of ads: Here at Calbuzz we’re big fans of spots where the candidate contradicts him or herself or where a candidate is caught saying nice things about his or her opponent, to wit, this tasty morsel slapped together by Team Krusty with eMeg opening by saying , “You know, 30 years ago anything was possible in this state.” Followed by a black screen question and answer:  Who was governor 30 years ago? Jerry Brown.” Followed by the Peter Coyote voice-over recounting Brown’s accomplishments, followed in turn by a news station’s raw footage of Whitman saying, “I mean it’s why I came to California so many years ago.” Not sure how much dough Brown’s campaign will put behind it, but it’s a nice touch.

Meanwhile, Team eMeg unleashed yet another attack ad, this one accusing Brown of being a dishonest failure and a “job killer,” whose only plan for California is “more taxes, more spending and more lost jobs.” And he’s a tool of the unions and a liar, to boot. In case you were wondering.

Press Clips: Balz, Hearst Shine; eMeg Still Ducks

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Postman delivers: For political reporters, the most memorable scene in “The Boys on the Bus,” Tim Crouse’s classic chronicle of campaign coverage of the 1972 presidential race, comes at the close of a dreary candidate debate in California: “Walter, Walter, what’s our lead?” one of the reporting pack shouts at the great Walter Mears, of the Associated Press.

The now-retired Mears is known as one of the best ever at performing what Crouse described as “the parlor trick” of instantly finding the lede of a political story – recognizing and honing in on the most important, precisely correct point with which to begin a clear, concise and rational account of what is often a sprawling, complicated and uncertain event.

Amid the countless trees killed in the service of covering President Obama’s first State of the Union this week, the Washpost’s Dan Balz proved anew why he’s the premier political scribe among the Beltway Wise Men, by nailing a Mears-like lede in his thumb sucker on the speech, one of the toughest deadline stories on the beat.

After the theatrics and the rhetoric and the canned responses, two questions remain from President Obama’s first State of the Union address: Did he succeed in persuading nervous Democrats not to cut and run on his presidency; and will he succeed in making Republicans think twice about their united opposition to almost all things Obama?

Our old friend Dan next pulled out and featured, high up in his yarn, the key money quotes from Obama’s hour-plus oratory, focusing on the president’s effort at shaming congressional GOPers into doing something beyond trying to trash and de-legitimize his presidency:

After last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, a super-majority, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.

Unfortunately for Obama, the answers to the questions Balz raised in his lede are:

a) most likely not
b) NFW.

Limbering up for punditry: While Balz won top Calbuzz honors for Instant Analysis, Richard Dunham of the Hearst Washington Bureau captured the award for print’s Best Pre-Game Show, posting a series of Harper’s Index-style, by-the-numbers measures on Obama’s first-year as president.

Put up on the Chron’s “Politics Blog,” Dunham’s report was a terrific, value-added, online element that provided advance perspective on the speech, on everything from Afghanistan to the anger of voters, as measured by official stats and top-rank national polls.

There was great sadness in the newsrooms of the Chron, and of other Hearst papers, when the mother ship folded local Washington bureaus into a consolidated D.C. operation, but Dunham’s good work on the SOTU offers a case study of how journalistic efficiencies of scale can sometimes work.

eMeg speaks – but not to you! In her unstinting effort to be elected Governor of the United States, Meg Whitman hit her talking points sat for interviews with three national outlets on her big book tour this week, once again stiffing the media organizations that actually cover the California governor’s race.

Breathlessly gushing about her appearances with Today’s Matt Lauer , Neil Cavuto on Fox and NPR’s Morning Edition, her press shop offered this dreck –

Meg has been doing a series of interviews over the past few days, and doing a great job explaining how she will be a different kind of leader for California

– apparently utterly oblivious to the irony that she’s explaining what a swell leader she’d be to REPORTERS WHO ARE NOT IN CALIFORNIA.

Breaking news: 150 days and counting since Calbuzz extended its dinner invite to eMeg.

What difference does it make what he says? Ben Smith at Politico got into an interesting beef with Senator John Cornyn, who accused the journo of being “blatantly unethical” after Smith posted a press release the Texas Republican put out commenting on Obama’s speech – hours before it was given.

I understand why Cornyn and his office are unhappy about the item and that they intended the early release as a convenience. I respectfully disagree on both the news value and the ethics. My blog item didn’t suggest that the mild deception in which his office was asking reporters to participate was some kind of major crime. It was just an opportunity to lift the curtain on a bit of Washington artifice and cast a little light on the way the parties actually interact.

And traditional ground rules, which I’ve been clear about in the past, are that you can’t put something off the record or under embargo without a reporter’s consent.

Amen, brother.

Hurricane anticipation: Cornyn wasn’t the only one to engage in a little crystal ball gazing about the speech. Carly Fiorina opined that Obama was offering “gimmicks, not real solutions” in the speech nearly seven hours before Obama started talking.

“Carly on anticipated SOTU content,” read a release eblasted by her campaign at 11:07 a.m (PDT), recounting her interview with some radio windbag from San Diego. A mere eight hours and 34 minutes later, iCarly shared her thoughts on the actual speech on You Tube.

She said that Obama had offered “gimmicks, not real solutions.”

(Memo to Carly handlers: You really should let her know not to keep looking down at the script when she’s on camera, which makes her look, um, kinda shifty. Also: that buzz cut is looking a little poofy around the ears, no? We’re just sayin’).

This just in: Sarah Palin has arrived to help with the relief effort in Tahiti.