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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.

More Thunder from eMeg’s Right; Carla Held Hostage

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Little noticed among all the Ken und John Sturm und Drang came  another right-wing whack at Meg Whitman’s campaign prevarications, from a less  cacophonous, but arguably more consequential, conservative quarter.

Peter Foy, a Ventura County supervisor and a favorite of Tea Party and other hardline precincts, took eMeg to task in a SignOnSan Diego piece (h/t Jon Fleischman) for her flip-flopping flexibility on immigration and climate change, a post showing that conservative dismay with Our Meg is not limited to the yakkers and shouters on the AM band.

Foy played a high-profile role in sinking Governor Schwarzmuscle’s budget plan in last year’s special election, characterizing both Whitman and Steve Poizner as “squishy” on that and other fiscal matters in an interview with Calbuzz at a time when he was taking a semi-serious look at running for the big job himself.

In his new piece, Foy declared himself “a Whitman supporter,” but was unstinting and surgical in slicing her in the very spots where she was pounded last week on talk radio.

It’s troubling that Meg Whitman – the billionaire first-time candidate seeking to become California’s next governor – is running the most conventional of too-clever-by-half campaigns. If she stubbornly continues this aloof tactical venture she will almost surely lose and won’t deserve to win…

While Whitman and her advisers understand the need to reach out to diverse constituencies, ham-handed efforts to woo Latinos (and other favored groups) are likely to both fail to launch and even blow up in their face…

They are likely to see this for the kaleidoscopic approach it is – inviting people to see what they want to see – and could punish Whitman even more severely than they would a different politician.

Here’s why. Whitman obviously has special appeal and the independent, outsider profile many voters say they are looking for. But if she’s simply going to advance the most expensive version of a bargain-basement campaign, Whitman is literally inviting voters to view her as calculating and even manipulative. While this is dangerous for a veteran politician, it’s lethal for a newcomer.

Over at Fox and Hounds, the estimable Joe Mathews argues that Meg’s appearance on John and Ken was a “Sister Souljah” moment that will help her image among independent voters by showing she’s not afraid to stand up to the most raucous elements of her party. We say: Not so much.

Unlike the talk show boys, Foy is a well-starched, perfectly respectable, establishment arch-conservative. As a political matter, it’s significant that he not only sounds the same  themes as John and Ken but also echoes the argument, made by independent voices like ours, plus progressive sites like Calitics, that Meg’s tell-everyone-what-they-want-to-hear pattern of behavior is most troubling, not as a policy issue, but as a character flaw.

…Their hearts and minds will follow: Maybe eMeg should stop with all the too clever by half moves and be more like Linda McMahon in taking a more ballsy approach.

Just askin’: Has there ever been a goofier idea by a news organization than the Chronicle’s effort to goose print circulation by delaying for 48 hours the posting of some of its best stories on SFGate?

A half-baked hybrid version of Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to force readers to pay for content one way or another (which itself is not exactly off to a roaring start) the Hearst Chron’s strategy of holding its own Sunday edition journalism hostage seems to be having three main effects:

1) it keeps some of the best work of its reporters out of the real-time conversation that drives the 24/7 news cycle;

2) it gives more eyeballs to the competition, as folks in search of new news head to the L.A. Times or SacBee to find it;

3) it drives traffic to aggregation sites which find and post the Chron’s stories despite the paper’s delusional notion that it can exercise singular control over the flow of online information.

For example, this Sunday the Chron kept Willie Brown’s column off the web, so readers in search of his latest take on the governor’s race (“Nerdy Jerry Brown a Formidable Opponent,” read the good hed, which was all a reader could read) was directed to this note:

This story is exclusive to the Chronicle’s Sunday print edition and will not appear on SFGate.com until 4:00 AM on Tuesday, August 10. To buy an electronic version of the Sunday paper now, go to…Print subscribers can go to…to sign up for free e-editions.

Hold your horses, Maude! Let’s forget that picnic and hike in the Berkeley hills – I really need to spend half the day navigating the Chron’s web site to read “Willie’s World.”

Readers encountered a similar M.C. Escher-like maze if they clicked on Carla Marinucci’s Sunday blog post (hopefully through the link on the Calbuzz Blogroll of Honor) where she offered a sketchy version of Jerry Brown’s just-released jobs plan, then appended this sad little lose-friends-and-don’t influence people note:

UPDATE: Check today’s San Francisco Chronicle for a “print-only” exclusive analysis of the jobs proposals being offered by both gubernatorial candidates, Brown and Whitman, as well as the candidates for U.S. Senate — Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer and GOP challenger Carly Fiorina. The “print only” exclusive will be released to the web on Tuesday morning…

Rather than wait until Tuesday morning, however, political junkies who cared found the very good, “exclusive analysis” of the jobs issue, which Marinucci co-wrote with boy wonder Drew Joseph, over at Jack Kavanagh’s Rough & Tumble , where it was posted more than 24 hours before it appeared “exclusively” on SFGate.

While the pathway the story took to R&T is not entirely clear, at least one key thing is: keeping information barricaded behind walls is kind of like running the 100-yard dash with water cupped safely in your hands.

Update 7:41 a.m. Rough and Tumble’s Jack Kavanagh checks in with this on the Chron/48-hour delay imbroglio:

I never link to Chronicle stories that are being withheld from the Internet on Sunday.

I only link to items readily available on the Chronicle site or the Chronicle politics blog.

The story you referenced by Carla was either available on the site or on the blog.

By the time the stories that are withheld by the Chronicle on Sunday are released on the following Wednesday, I generally ignore them mainly because by that time they are generally pretty stale.

Emphasis in original. We rest our case.

Memo to Frank Vega: Great Cesar’s Ghost, man! Free Willie, Carla, Drew, Phil, Andy and all political prisoners!

Sifting the Detritus of the CA Dem Convention

Monday, April 19th, 2010

It’s a measure of the small bore political stakes of the California Democratic Party convention that the weekend’s only drama played out over an inconclusive fight for the party’s endorsement in an internecine contest for lieutenant governor — a conflict over a second-tier office that has far more to do with personalities than policy.

During a two-day convention when one officeholder after another pleaded with 3,000 activists to match the passion of the conservative Tea Party movement in the 2010 campaign, the convention remained a mostly sedate affair, with delegates wistfully recalling the sense of purpose in President Obama’s historic 2008 victory, while trying to get excited about candidates for insurance commissioner and lieutenant governor, ferhevensakes.

“At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party (movement)” Senator Barbara Boxer candidly told reporters, “and I think it is absolutely a fact that we have to match that enthusiasm.”

This just in: in the long-awaited balloting in the Lite Gov’s race, S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom out-polled L.A. City Council member Janice Hahn, 52-to-42. According to a furious exchange of late-night spinning memos eblasted by the two camps, this was either a great victory for Hahn, for denying her rival the 60 percent needed for the endorsement, or a key tactical win for Newsom, who skunked his foe in her own back yard.

Zzzzzzz.

As a practical matter, the question of how much energy and enthusiasm the Dems can muster  — in a non-presidential election year, when the political winds now strongly favor Republicans, when the Donkey Ticket is led by two old war horses, aged 69 and 72, and when the GOP’s statewide entry is led by an Empire Strikes Back campaign bristling with more money than God -– will be a major factor in determining the size and make-up of the November electorate.

When handlers for Jerry Brown are only half-joking in telling reporters the party’s presumptive nominee for governor just needs to win by one vote, the question of turnout, and whether Democrats can expand the size of their base to pick up a sizable chunk of younger and independent voters, is crucial.

And you have to wonder how forward-thinking comprehensive a strategy the Democrats have for doing so, when party chairman John Burton says he thinks that a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana will be the key to motivating the under-30 crowd to come to the polls.

Brown insists he’s sanguine about his chances against Republican front-runner Meg Whitman, despite her surge in the polls and her clear intent to recycle many of the millions she pocketed from shady dealings at Goldman Sachs and other high-end investments. And, on one level at least, his unruffled display of patience is a reminder that it’s still very, very early in the campaign season – “I only have to win on one day,” he told reporters Saturday.

But facing a likely foe who’s equipped to outspend him by orders of magnitude, Brown faces a stark choice between spending his own resources defending himself over the summer, when either Whitman or fellow zillionaire wannabe governor Steve Poizner will surely be bashing him daily on the airwaves, or hanging on to his pile until fall, when voters will be more engaged.

Brown must hope that at least one of the several Independent Expenditure committees that have popped up with promises to help him – but have so far shown a far greater ability to trash Whitman than to raise cash to beat her – will gain enough traction to mount a serious summer TV campaign to go after the GOP nominee and watch Brown’s back.

IE operatives in the Calbuzz orbit tell us they believe they’ll have the money in place and a plan of attack to mount a TV-radio-internet-bus stop-anywhere-you-frequent campaign that will find like-minded voters — especially independents — during the summer, giving Brown some breathing room to husband resources for the fall. We’ll see.

“The rules of democracy are not changed just because a billionaire decides she wants to be governor,” Brown told Calbuzz. But the rules have changed — and Brown knows it.

Paging Pamela Harriman: In the absence of heavyweight political skirmishes at the convention, the sharpest competition played out over who put on the best party.

Speaker John Perez and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg tossed the Best Bash for the Masses, with their Saturday afternoon free Taco Truck Throwdown with mobile catering from such favorite as  Calbi Fusion (whose pulled pork was good but hardly Mexican)  and El Principio (which served up a killer carnitas).  Friday’s elegant soiree thrown by the  California Correctional Peace Officers union, with salmon caviar and free booze,  captured top honors in the Intimate Setting Category.

But in the end, Calbuzz can report with complete immodesty, the most entertaining event was the Second Annual Dr. P.J. Hackenflack’s Hack and Flack dinner at Café Pinot, where Brown Himself and heavyweight consultant Garry South got into a cage match battle over electoral strategy at one table, with LA political wheelhouse Donna Bojarsky and political analysts Sherry and Doug Jeffe in the mix. At another table Boxer strategist Rose Kapolcynski, Brown’s Steve Glazer, L.A. premier blogger Kevin Roderick and Laurel Canyon media meisters Julie Buckner and Celia Fischer all compared notes on the political landscape and the chocolate mouse gateau. Other Calbuzzers kicking around strategic insights included poll taker Ben Tulchin and his wife consultant Laurie Biejen,  Kaufman Campaigns’ Richard Stapler, plus reporters from the Chronicle, Media News, KQED and more, who dined on a choice of duo of beef, pan roasted Jidori chicken and Atlantic salmon.

Although Dr. H briefly considered hiring a couple of leg breakers to go after a couple of confirmed guests who were no shows (we know where you live) and one gate crasher, there were no injuries.

Paging Mr. Bartlett: Brown’s three best weird comments of the weekend:

1-“The menu is not the meal,” a big-think overview of where the governor’s race stands today. 2-“I believe in the  papal doctrine of subsidiarism,” a reference to his belief that government authority should be pushed back to locals from Sacramento. 3-”The sherpas will meet soon,” his proposal for a process of arranging debates between him and his Republican rivals.

We’re just sayin’: Can the Democratic party staff please arrange for Burton to have a makeover? The unbuttoned red safari shirt look makes him look like a cheesy Vegas weekend low-roller from Cleveland.

Chamber Yanks Attack on Brown; Fish Odor Lingers

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Under fire from board members, Attorney General Jerry Brown and editorial writers, California Chamber of Commerce CEO Allan Zaremberg on Thursday decided to cut short the TV ad campaign attack he produced and financed with $1.3 million from the Chamber’s coffers.

With University of California President Mark Yudof raising a stink (but relative silence from CSU and community college chancellors Charlie Reed and Jack Scott)*, with at least four Chamber board members in open revolt, with the Sacramento Bee labeling Zaremberg’s ad campaign a “cannonball of dishonesty,” and with the Attorney General and his former businesswoman wife lighting up board members, Zaremberg beat a hasty retreat.

Aren’t you glad Calbuzz blew the whistle on all this?

We have no idea what Zaremberg thought he was doing when he got authorization from his board to do issue ads and then produced and bought TV time for an attack ad that blames Brown for Proposition 13, a $200 billion deficit, spiraling taxation and the decline of civilization as we know it. We don’t know because the chicken-livered Chamber CEO won’t even come to the phone when we call.

He did speak to the Chronicle and to  Capitol Weekly, telling them: “We’re ready to move on to the next phase of our paid media campaign . . . We believe we’ve accomplished what we tried to accomplish with the first ad, which is bring attention to these important issues. We probably got a little more attention than we expected.”

What?  “Accomplished what we tried to accomplish with the first ad?” You gotta be kidding?

“California is facing serious challenges, and the voters deserve honesty from candidates and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce,” Brown campaign manager Steve Glazer said. “This ad was misleading, the funding is a mystery and it should never have been aired. We’re pleased the ad is down, and we hope the Chamber will return to a more constructive role in public affairs.”

Calbuzz checked with ad traffic managers at stations in Sacramento and Los Angeles who said, indeed, orders have been received to replace “Enough Is Enough” — the attack ad — with an ad titled “Plan,” which they had not yet seen.

We also heard that while the Chamber board had only approved issue ads in general, Zaremberg’s executive committee approved the specific ad. But we were unable to reach the chair of that committee, Larree M. Renda, executive vice president, chief strategist and administrative officer of  Safeway Inc. Wonder how happy Safeway is with Zaremberg, now?

Late Thursday, Tucker Bounds of the Meg Whitman campaign put out a statement alleging that Brown had “spent the last several days directly telephoning the top executives of companies who sit on the California Chamber of Commerce board to threaten both labor unrest from his allies and direct regulatory action from his office.”

Bounds offered no individual names and campaign spokeswoman Sarah Pompei could not either. But their pal and fellow Republican partisan Chip Hanlon, over at Red County, said Brown had threatened labor unrest and other investigations in conversations with executives from Safeway and the Bank of America.

If true, of course, this would represent a serious misuse of power by the Attorney General of California. But according to Brown’s spokesman Sterling Clifford, who said he was within earshot of all the calls the Browns made to Chamber board members, “It is frankly and flatly false. It’s a face-saving, desperate statement of a campaign whose allies attempted to circumvent campaign finance law and were uncovered.”

If we hear from some Chamber members that Brown was stupid enough to threaten them, we’ll be among the first to call for him to be held to account. In the meantime, here’s what’s bothering at us about all this: something’s fishy over at the Cal Chamber.

Why hide who the donors are who financed the ad? That’s what Zaremberg did by having the Chamber produce and place the ad instead of running the operation through the Chamber’s Political Action Committee, which would have to disclose the donors.

The Chamber can argue that’s because this was an “issue ad” — not a political ad — which may be legally true but practically specious.  Even if it was legally an issue ad because it never called for viewers to vote for or against anyone, this was an attack ad — pure and simple.

Why was the ad — which decries job losses in California — produced at Interface Media Group in Washington, DC, and why was it placed by Mentzer Media of Townsend, MD? Who made the ad? Who financed it? Did anyone at the Chamber get a commission or a fee?

Can someone explain this transaction? Does the Chamber board want to know?

* Update, 3:40 p.m. The following is a joint statement from California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed, and University of California President Mark Yudof:

While our campuses are forums for free and unfettered discussion of ideas, as leaders of California’s three public higher education systems we do not engage in partisan politics and we have some concerns about the advertisement recently released by the California Chamber of Commerce.

Though we serve on the Chamber’s 100-plus member board, we were not consulted about this advertisement and were not aware of it prior to it becoming public. We each have independently expressed our concerns to the Chamber, and it is our understanding that the ad has been pulled.

We value our inclusion on the Chamber board, which provides an opportunity to interact with business leaders on issues that are of vital importance to the future of California. This is a dialogue that has been of great benefit to higher education, the business community and the state as a whole. We hope Chamber leadership will understand and address our need not to be drawn into partisan politics through participation in the Chamber.

Boxer, Campbell Running Strong in New Field Poll

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

boxerangryAlthough a recent entrant to the contest, former Congressman Tom Campbell leads the Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate, with 30% of the vote, followed by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina at 25% and Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore at 6%, a new Field Poll shows today.

Campbell also runs best in simulated match-ups against Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. She leads Campbell 48-38%, Fiorina 50-35% and DeVore 51-34%.

According to Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field: “Campbell’s lead over Fiorina is somewhat larger among GOP primary voters in Northern California, those who are moderates or moderately conservative, women and seniors. On the other hand, Fiorina is running about even with Campbell among GOP primary voters in Southern California, those who are strongly conservative, men and voters under age 65.”

As a Campbell supporter noted in an email we received curiously at 5:52 am (8 minutes before the embargo), Campbell is the only Republican candidate whose favorable rating is better than his unfavorable among general election voters.

He’s at 22-14%, Fiorina is at 16-18% and DeVore is at 6-9%. Of course, it’s also true that 64% of voters and 63% of Republicans have no opinion about Campbell; 66% of voters and 70% of Republicans have no clue about Fiorina, and a staggering 85% of voters and 81% of Republicans have no opinion about DeVore.

Boxer, on the other hand, has a 49-39% favorable rating among all voters: 71-17% among Democrats and the reverse, 15-74% among Republicans. Democrats love her; Republicans can’t stand her.

Here’s the best news for Babs: at the moment, her favorability is 55-27% among independents — a crucial voting bloc in the general election. If she keeps those numbers, she likely can’t be beaten. At the moment, Campbell’s favorability among independents is 17-10%, Fiorina’s is 18-15% and DeVore’s is 5-7%.

Because Calbuzz does not receive the Field Poll in advance (NB: we offered to pay for a subscription, but were rejected because Field executives fear the wrath of their MSM clients, some of whom have complained behind our backs about us getting the survey) we don’t have data to provide full analysis yet. [Update: We could see the basic release at 6 am and we're adding to this story now.]

But a few thoughts suggest themselves:

1 — We argued in an earlier post that based on the USC/LA Times poll, there appeared to be some overlap between Campbell and DeVore voters and we suggested – contra conventional wisdom – that Campbell might actually draw votes from the more conservative DeVore. These results suggest that may well be the case.

2 –-The gender card is not necessarily an asset for Fiorina in GOP primary. We suspect there’s not much difference in preferences of Republican women and men at this point. In fact, the data show, Campbell has a slightly larger lead over Fiorina among women 28-19% than he does among men 32-30%. This is probably due to the fact that  Republican women are more moderate than GOP men and are more likely to be swayed by ideology than gender. This is confirmed by the poll’s finding that Campbell leads Fiorina by 13 points (30-23%) among those who say they are moderate or moderately conservative and by just 2 points (29-27%) among those who say they’re strong conservatives.

3 –- Campbell hasn’t spent a dime compared to Fiorina, so his lead has got to be based on the fact that he’s been known to Republican voters for a long time – or at least he’s better known than his opponents.campbellnew

4 – With four in 10 Republicans still undecided and no serious media in play yet, these are little more than baseline numbers that should be expected to shift dramatically in the weeks and months to come.

The Field Poll surveyed 958 likely voters Jan. 5-17, including 202 likely Republican primary voters. The margin of error for the overall sample is plus or minus 3.3% and for the GOP sample it is 7.1%.

PS: Regarding the email we got at 5:52 am with the Field Poll results, our tipster writes: “I didn’t know what time the embargo was supposed to have lifted.  I woke up,  I refreshed the Field Poll public website, and saw the link.  I had time to read it and write that email before I sent it out, too.”

We also note with interest that the San Francisco Chronicle’s web page shows the Field Poll story was posted at 4 am. Here’s the screen capture: