Money Down: What Poizner’s Cash Play Means


poiznergoldWe’re not sure what possessed Steve Poizner to put on his web site a digital running total that publicly tracks his ballyhooed effort to raise $50K in December – without having at least two-thirds of the amount committed and ready to post, to feed the perception of momentum.

Whatever it was, however, we’re pretty sure it was just about the worst idea since the Edsel.

One look at Poizner’s version of the Jerry’s Kids telethon thermometer Monday – when it stood at a pathetically droopy $12,885 – – is all you need to know about why The Commish suddenly announced he would go to the wallet for $15 million of his own fortune to sustain his lagging campaign for governor.

“He didn’t have any other option,” said one Republican insider. “There were rumors all over Sacramento that he was going to drop out.”

Poizner’s $15 million move will likely stop the bleeding among the gossip-mongering cognoscenti (which he’s done for the moment, at least to judge by campaign flack Jarrod Agen’s success in getting the entire press corps to write exactly the same story Monday). It also may calm some of his current supporters, whose restiveness in the face of his failure to move the needle in the polls seems to have led to the we-got-her-right-where-we-want-her memo his campaign e-blasted last week, which smacked of desperation.

Having made his move, Poiznergreendollar now faces two other, far more difficult tasks: a) actually writing the check he’s promised (we’ll be watching) and b) figuring out how to spend the dough wisely. We’re also not convinced that $15 million is enough to make the kind of splash – positive, negative or both – he needs.

As we noted last week in our six-months-out-from-the-primary analysis, which said flatly that Poizner needed to fork out some serious cash soon, Whitman’s scorched earth strategy of spending Whatever It Takes means it’ll cost Single Digits Steve big bucks just to get even with the name ID she’s already bought, let alone cruise by her.

With Her Megness trouncing The Commish in early opinion surveys, his campaign will surely be tempted to go negative on her out of the box, in an effort to stop her momentum.

This would be an unforced error, in our view, since the only people in California who have any idea who he is right now are the disheveled hordes who read Calbuzz, and he doesn’t want the first thing they learn about him to be that he beats up girls; beyond that, eMeg’s low-profile but expensive radio campaign has laid down a pretty good ground cover defense against a sudden air attack.

On the other hand, putting a couple million bucks behind positive spots, based on his recent “Back from the Brink” bio web ad (slight digression: Who thought that was a swell title? Not a few political junkies assumed he was talking about his campaign, not the state of California) is the safe and conventional play, but it remains to be seen whether the centerpiece of Poizner’s campaign, his ”bold” 10-10-10 budget proposal, has enough juice to give him some movement.


Certainly, the specificity of his tax cut plan gives him one potentially sharp contrast with eMeg, who has said the state’s current tax structure doesn’t need remaking. He’s also likely to compare her broad brush plan to can 40,000 state employees unfavorably with his more detailed proposed for a 10 percent spending cut.

One potential game changer in the GOP race, of course, would be Tom Campbell abandoning his bid for governor to jump into the Republican primary race for Senate.

Campbell spokesman James Fisfis confirmed to Chris Cillizza of the WashPost that Tom Terrific has been approached to make the switch. It makes sense in a lot of ways: Campbell by nature is more of the legislative than executive type and, even though he’d still face an uphill battle raising money against Carly Fiorina, it would be an easier slog than trying to make his way in the Daddy/Mommy Warbucks primary against eMeg and The Commish.

We talked to Campbell about the rumors Monday and, for the first time in his life, he was tight lipped:

“I am in the race for governor. I have nothing to add to that.”

Try as we might to twist ourselves into contortions to get more out of him – i.e. “When you return from your holiday vacation (he and his wife are headed to Panama to study intensive Spanish – honest, you could look it up) will you still be a candidate for governor?

“I am in the race for governor, and I’m not really going to add to that.”

Which smells suspiciously like he’s seriously looking at it. If he goes, about one-quarter of the GOP vote, which is where he’s been polling, is suddenly up for grabs.

On the natural, that would seem to benefit Poizner, just because he would gain from anything that shakes up the race, and he comes closer to Campbell’s egghead appeal. But as Poizner tacks hard right, Campbell’s politics are closer to Whitman’s, so she’d likely at least a split his vote.

For months, Poizner has been trashing Whitman for spending millions of her own money on the race, charging that she thinks the election “is an eBay auction.” Now, he’s finally made his own bid, and the key question is, will it prove too little, too late.

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There are 6 comments for this post

  1. avatar Ave7 says:

    “But as Poizner tacks hard right, Campbell’s politics are closer to Whitman’s, so she’d likely least a split his vote.” (sic)

    You guys make this sound like Monopoly. If I trade three railroads for Park Place, I’ll have two blues, the purples and one whole corner of the board!

    Reality check: Neither Whitman, Poizner, or Campbell own any voters beyond a small percentage who are hyper-political. If Campbell quits the people who say they are inclined to vote for him “if the election were held today” would have to switch to undecided or someone else, but that’s just not saying much in the context of an electorate that has barely begun to understand there is an election next year.

    Most of what will decided this election hasn’t happened yet to please stop exaggerating the importance of today’s polls.

  2. avatar tegrat says:

    It’s truly a sad state of affairs when we sit back and watch rich people vying for public office with no grassroots support and nobody seems to care that our political system has devolved to such crass corruption. Be sure to cover your noses while witnessing the US senate as well, the stench of sulfur emanating from their Faustian pacts might be overwhelming.

  3. avatar starstation says:

    Not sure what your calculus is, but if Poizner does a surgical strike that focuses in on the negatives of Whitman…this is a whole new ballgame by Valentines Day.
    She is very vulnerable.
    She is not only loose with campaign cash, but shareholder cash…which means she will disrespect taxpayers as well. She will melt faster than the wicked witch of the west.
    Your analytical skills need to be refreshed–you two have been retired too long.

  4. avatar mjgrove says:

    Let’s not over-estimate the value of eMeg’s radio ad campaign. Over the weekend, I had the painful experience of trying to listen to the news on KNX 1070. Almost every commercial was the exact same thing, “I ran EBay…” Being somewhat masochistic, I timed the interval between repeats: minimum was FOUR MINUTES. Then I turned off the radio.

    Possible Reasons
    #1: KNX’s new all-news format might be really, really short on ads;
    #2: eMeg’s staff is unfamiliar with the phrase, “annoying as Hell”;
    #3: eMeg herself is totally clueless about campaigning.

    Result: I now hit the next station just as soon as I hear her voice.
    M.J. in Beverly Hills
    Registered Republican, voted Democratic

    • avatar Ave7 says:

      We call this effect the “Checchi Trajectory.” (Substitute “Northwest Airlines” for “EBay” and you have the last completely unqualified ultrawealthy ego-maniacal airbag to run for CA Governor.) You’re perhaps a bit ahead of the masses, but soon they too will throw up a little in the back of their mouth every time her latest ad oozes for their radio or tv. Filled with vacuous insights and Republican panderhetoric, Whitman’s own “positive” ads will be her opponent’s greatest weapons. The big polling pop yields a bigger polling drop. The flavor of the month club simply looks for a new flavor. Then Meg will go negative — big, mean, ugly, nasty ads that make her smile wickedly in the screening room and leave her senior staff pumping their fists, smirking with “take that Poser!” on their minds. Which of course is when her free fall will begin, as no one particularly cares what a seller of cabbage patch dolls has to say about California politics.

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