It speaks volumes that Meg Whitman’s first public appearance as the Republican nominee for governor will be a joint event with the GOP’s other statewide candidates while Jerry Brown plans to hold a rally of one.
California has scant history of campaigns that feature major party candidates running in tandem with down-ticket nominees, but last night’s results on the Democratic side offer eMeg plenty of reasons to try to tie Krusty the General closely to some of his party colleagues.
With all the money in the world to run multiple campaign themes, don’t be surprised if Whitman constructs a narrative that appeals to independent voters and underscores her attack lines on Brown, by identifying him as the leader of a statewide ticket of Bay Area Democratic liberals.
With such a gambit, eMeg could try to frame the election as a choice between an outside challenger (her) and a California political status quo dominated by arrogant and ineffective lefties (Jerry and his Kids) whom she portrays as weak on taxes, soft on crime, permissive on illegal immigration and in the thrall of public employee unions.
The notion recalls the 1984 presidential race, when President Ronald Reagan was nominated for a second term at a convention that rocked with raucous bashing of “San Francisco Democrats,” who had nominated the ill-fated Walter Mondale in that city a month earlier.
“It’s a very plausible strategy,” said one top Republican consultant. “That’s what I would do if I was running against Jerry,” chimed in a Democratic statewide strategist. “Duh,” said another.
The basics were suggested weeks ago, by Democratic political consultant (and Jerry Brown hater) Garry South, who argued that his client for Lite Gov — Janice Hahn — would be a better “running mate” for Brown than South’s former client, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a liberal white male who’d be a drag on Brown statewide.
As a political matter, Whitman would certainly have raw material to work with:
— Newsom, the lieutenant governor nominee, is known statewide for his sneering “whether they like it or not” comment, flung at foes in his role as the High Priest of Gay Marriage, not to mention the anything-goes values and left-wing politics associated with his city around the state.
— San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, the attorney general nominee, is not only embroiled in a scandal involving the city’s drug lab which has threatened prosecutions in hundreds of drug cases, but also the architect of a decision not to seek the death penalty in the high profile case of a cop killer, among other controversies.
— U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, since beginning her career in Marin County, has long been a vivid symbol of California liberalism, a three-term incumbent with a reputation for arrogance that went on full display in her now-famous dressing down of a military leader for not addressing her as “Senator” during a public hearing.
And that’s not to mention U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco liberal conservatives love to hate (often with absolutely no rationale.)
The Bay Area lefties strategy, of course, carries considerable risks, as well as opportunities.
For starters, Democrats still dominate Republicans in voter registration statewide, and President Obama remains very popular in California, two factors that could make the move backfire. A majority of independents appear, also, to identify with Democrats more often than with Republicans on many issues.
For another thing, while Whitman might be quick to frame Brown and the Democrats as a purported “ticket,” she would likely be loathe to invite comparisons with the Republican slate, which at times bears resemblance to the bar scene in Star Wars:
Lite Gov nominee Abel Maldonado has a well-earned reputation as a flip-flopping wiggler who is hardly a beloved figure among his own party; Attorney General candidate Steve Cooley was assailed by GOP primary rivals for being soft on Three Strikes prosecutions and Senate candidate Carly Fiorina is, well, she’s Hurricane Carly and all that implies.
The Dem reply to an attempt to ticketize Jerry’s Kids might well be to cast Carly and Meg together and ask: “Do you want to be represented by a pair of greedy business moguls who would take away your right to choose, cut pensions for cops, firefighters and teachers and turn back the clock on global warming?”
To be sure, some political professionals just don’t think the ticket strategy works in California.
“That assumes the whole ticket effect and I don’t buy that for California,” said one prominent GOP consultant. “Guilt by association, the boogie man – I don’t think is going to be effective with voters.”
On the other hand, we’ve never seen what you can do with an unlimited campaign budget, have we?