The Poizner Effect: Is Jerry Brown Blowing It?
Four months before the November election, the Jerry Brown-Meg Whitman race looks like a small band of desperadoes toting six shooters facing off against a fully staffed division equipped with tanks, stinger missiles and .50 caliber machine guns.
Even so, we have to wonder if Brown doesn’t seem ruinously hellbent on employing the not-so-vaunted Poizner Strategy: keep your powder dry while constantly whining about how nasty and profligate the other side is, then fire everything you’ve got all at once, in a short burst at the end of the campaign.
Worked like a charm for The Commish, eh?
We at Calbuzz don’t pretend to be brilliant campaign strategists, and we freely stipulate that there are certain dynamics in the governor’s race that work strongly in Krusty’s favor. For starters, we hear that eMeg’s favorability is about 4-3 negative and – importantly – voters (especially Democrats and independents who might have been confused) understand after her bruising primary battle against Poizner that she is a Republican politician and a Wall Street insider, not some post-partisan Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
So, instead of being 10 points behind immediately coming out of the primary, which was the worst case for Brown, he came out of it 2-6 points ahead, depending on whose survey you believe. In a state that leans 8-10 points Democratic, Krusty’s not in a terrible position.
But, while he and his plucky little squad insist that eMeg’s multi-faceted, multi-million-dollar attack on him as a “failure” is a sign of weakness (because she first tried and failed to gain ground by running a positive ad), we would hereby like to state the obvious: She’s on the air and he’s not!
Ergo: What she’s saying is being heard; what he’s saying (and believe us, there’s not much) is not being heard. By anyone.
And what’s Brown doing about this state of affairs? Pissing and moaning; Lord, ain’t life unfair:
The other side, kind of the apostles of darkness and ignorance, are well heeled. They have great political consultants. And they intend to bombard the airwaves. It’s almost like a hostile takeover of the public airwaves and of democracy itself. We gotta’ fight back and you’ve gotta fight back and I need your help.
Hey Krusty, it’s 2010. Your opponent’s a billionaire. Man up. A governor’s race is a no-whine zone.
Another problem: Remember that quaint old idea of a “news cycle,” from, oh, say 1974, when you could get something in the “morning papers” or on what they used to call “the evening news?” Brown seems to think those rules of media engagement still apply.
Memo to Team Krusty: when eMeg puts out an ad attacking you like she did last week, you’re not going to get into the story by putting out your point-by-point response in time for the next “news cycle.”
Because there is no more “news cycle.” It’s all happening now, in real time, on the internets. And you can’t comfort yourself by trying to argue that “nothing appeared in the papers, it was only on the web.” Memo II: Online news is no less penetrating than home-delivered and newsstand newspapers. In fact, the MSMs figure out what to say, in part, by reading the blogs, so your alleged “rapid response” was actually what you might call geezer response. BTW, we’re not the only ones to note this.
As Calbuzz has noted before, Brown’s main argument is that while he’s authentic, Whitman is artificial. As we’ve said, it goes like this: “He’s the real deal; she’s a brand name. He’s meat and potatoes; she’s Mrs. Potato Head.”
“She’s a marketing creation,” said Brown campaign manager Steve Glazer. “The issues she purports to care so much about today, she never lifted a finger to do anything about in the past.”
True enough, but maybe irrelevant, if Whitman can bury her distant and even her recent past under a mountain of paid propaganda.
One important issue to watch: How she handles AB32. In order not to look too much like a Sierra Club symp in her primary battle against Poizner, Whitman called for suspending the state’s pioneering measure to roll back greenhouse gas emissions.
Now that a ballot measure has qualified to do just that, will Whitman have the stones to back the ballot measure that is backed by a whole host of nasty oil companies?
We asked eMeg’s spokeshuman, the volcanic Sarah Pompei, for the candidate’s position on the November ballot measure to undo AB 32 and got this response:
“Meg is carefully looking at the initiative now that it has qualified for the ballot. In the meantime, she has proposed her own detailed plan to institute the one-year moratorium allowed by AB 32 to study the statute and ensure it will not lead to further job losses.”
Memo III: Instead of complaining about the inequities of campaign spending, this is exactly the kind of issue Brown should be hitting on if he has any hope to getting sustained media coverage to counter-balance eMeg’s unrelenting (she was off the air for a total of two days!) advertising.
Why? A March Field Poll found California voters supporting AB32 58-38% and by a 69-29% margin, agreeing that “California can reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and expand jobs and economic prosperity at the same time.”
That’s exactly what eMeg says California cannot do. But if the Brown “campaign” had a big event pressing Meg on this issue, we must have missed it. (Which, of course, is possible, given that we’re just a couple of hacks plagued by early onset senility).
And while eMeg is spending $600,000 a week or so on Spanish-language advertising to try to convince Latinos that she’s not Pete Wilson (even if he is her campaign chairman), Brown’s campaign still has no one on staff in charge of outreach to the Hispanic community, leaving open the question of whether Brown does (as some Latinos believe) take the Latino vote for granted.
What Jerry has going for him is that the Republican brand gets only about 20% favorable among Latinos and the Spanish-language news media – at least what we’ve seen – don’t seem to eager to forgive Whitman’s polarizing talk about illegal immigration during the primary.
Here’s Brown’s dilemma: every day he and his merry band up in Oakland have to decide 1) when to engage, 2) what to say and 3) how much to put behind it. They can absorb a certain amount of negativity that will drive Brown’s favorability downward. But how far down can they afford to go before they change their strategic game plan?
It’s just a fact that Whitman is going to keep coming at Brown every day, in new ways, in different markets. True, the messenger has been somewhat discredited herself, but as the widely quoted Joseph Goebbels (and Morton’s Salt, Crest and Nike) proved, if you say something over and over, even if it’s not true, you can convince a lot of people of just about anything.
The pro-Brown independent expenditure committees are having this effect to some extent: they’re aimed at keeping Whitman from being able to build her favorability, which she desperately needs in order to get past 40-42% level of support in a head-to-head with Brown, who’s in the 46-48% range.
Brown argues that he’s got an outsider’s attitude and the experience to get California working again. Whitman argues that he’s a failure and that she’s got the experience to get California working again.
Bottom line: she’s making her case to millions of people every day and he’s not. It seems clear that it’s time for Brown to start talking concretely about how he would govern and how he would use the government to tweak California’s economy.
Or maybe nobody’s paying attention yet. We seem to recall Steve Poizner saying something to that effect.
This non-campaign campaign by Brown isn’t going to end well. I mean, why should anyone help a candidate who clearly doesn’t even want to help himself? Sure he can’t win a money war with a billionaire, but if you asked random voters on the street what Brown’s plan is should he win, they won’t be able to tell you what that might be.
This is easily the weakest ticket the Democrats have nominated. Between Brown, Newsom and Harris, there’s not a lot going on.
As eMeg was generating a comfortable poll lead by bombarding the airwaves last December, Poizner’s high level team kept reassuring his backers that she has “thin support” that could easily be overcome. We know that fight ended in a smashing eMeg victory.
Now Brown’s campaign manager, Steve Glazer, talks derisively about eMeg being a “marketing creation”. Well Steve! That description fits just about every one of us candidates who ran for office…and some us have actually won even against other “media creations”.
I think Calbuzz is reading it right but I have one slightly different slant. It’s O.K. if Jerry’s team blows this race for we underdog Republicans need all the help we can get. Ain’t that right eMeg?!!!
Sadly, I think CalBuzz has this about right.
(I’ll offer this one prediction: if in fact Brown succumbs as Poizner did, you can expect most of the post-mortems to cite Whitman’s spending advantage and to ignore the missteps, missed opportunities and muddled messages pointed out above.)