In the summer silly season of California’s 1990 campaign for governor, a strategist for Dianne Feinstein used to say that running against Pete Wilson was like “getting up every morning and having somebody throw marbles in front of you” all day.
The description perfectly expressed the challenge of facing the aggressive, always-on-offense style of Republican Wilson’s camp, which worked assiduously to keep Democrat Difi constantly off balance before defeating her in November.
The phrase came to mind Tuesday with word that Meg Whitman’s campaign has filed a Public Records Act request seeking reams of documents at the state Department of Justice, ostensibly to discover if Attorney General Jerry Brown has been nefariously using state employees or resources to advance his bid for governor against eMeg.
The request, formally made by Sacramento GOP oppo research consultant Mark Bogetich, came one day after Seema Metha did a feature in the L.A. Times, which examined the line that Brown must walk between his official duties and campaign activities; the piece presented no evidence that he’d crossed it, nefariously or otherwise.
Rising with its usual, over-inflated self-righteousness, the eMeg Empire nonetheless pointed to Mehta’s story to explain its PRA demand, a cheap head fake used to justify a smart political play.
The demand, which Brown’s office has 10 days to answer, is a tactical move to strew marbles in Krusty’s path, a distraction that interferes with his effort to gain some traction, let alone momentum, in at least three ways:
1-It pushes out the idea that Brown must be guilty of something – planting the suggestion that he’s committed some kind of official misconduct into both the campaign debate and the public consciousness (especially if Team Whitman throws some advertising dough behind it).
By putting Brown in the position of having to prove a negative, in a year when politicians are more subject than ever to perceptions of chicanery, it sets up a new line of attack over his character, at a time when his camp is trying to push a narrative that questions her personal integrity; as the money quote from eMeg spokeshuman Sarah Pompei announcing the PRA request clearly shows, Whitman is already treating her so-far baseless suspicions as proven fact:
After 40 years in politics, Governor Brown appears to be someone who will try to take advantage of his incumbency, even if it costs taxpayers money. Voters deserve to know what they’re spending on Jerry Brown’s personal P.R. campaign.”
Deserve to know “what they’re spending,” not “whether they’re spending,” mind you.
2-It opens the possibility that the records search might actually reveal something embarrassing or, at least, something commonplace that can be twisted to seem embarrassing.
The PRA letter from Bogetich is actually pretty mundane: asking for hiring and payroll records, calendars and travel expense sheets (have a blast reading those maintenance logs for state cars, man) for DOJ employees who work on communications matters. Given Brown’s experience in office, and the micromanaging he does over anything involving media, it’s unlikely there are any bombshells there, but, hey, a girl can always hope.
Whatever else the PRA demand does, it creates a tiresome, day job distraction for Brown, his professional staff and his Merry Band of campaigners to locate, pull, examine and assess thousands of pages of boring documents, all of it time not spent plotting and running against eMeg.
3-It’s a brush back pitch that serves to warn Brown that he needs to be extremely careful in wielding the most effective weapon of his el cheapo campaign – the constant free publicity he receives from weighing in on every high-profile case, from Anna Nicole Smith to the Grim Sleeper, and suing every populist target from investment firms to health care insurers.
In putting Brown into a defensive posture, the move seeks to transform his greatest strength into a potential liability and make it harder for Krusty to frame the election as a referendum on Meg – and easier for her to make it about him.
It’s worth noting that Bogetich markets his firm by offering “political vulnerability research” that “helps clients…de-position opponents.” Orwell would be proud.
It’s also telling that he’s part of a broader oppo research division within the mighty Empire: in describing the operation a few months ago, Politico quoted an inside source who made a point we keep harping on:
We believe that (Brown) hasn’t undergone the rigors of modern campaigning. He hasn’t run a competitive race at this level since the early eighties. It’s a different news cycle than he has experienced. He’s incredibly skilled and incredibly talented. But this is a new challenge for him.
Not to worry Gandolf fans: he’ll gets things cranked up on the fax, as soon as the typeball gets replaced on the Selectric.
P.S. Things could be worse for Democrats.
If they had nominated Gavin Newsom instead of Brown, they would have had to contend with “vulnerability research” Bogetich was doing a while back on the cost of the only-in-San Francisco “Healthy Penis” campaign. (Answer: $122,575).
In case you missed it: Slate’s mashup of Mel Gibson’s abusive phone calls to Oksana Grigorieva and the trailer for his movie, “What Women Want,” is a must-see. Fair warning: X-rated and strictly not for the easily offended.