Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Conventional Thinking

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There was no ladies night, or even talk of a “year of the woman” at this weekend’s California Republican Party convention in Santa Clara, yet it’s two very prominent female candidates who made the most news — albeit, for different reasons.

First, Meg Whitman, the frontrunner in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary.

It wasn’t what Whitman said. It’s what she did: a 48-minute press conference after a week of terrible coverage for ducking reporters at a “media” event. that, after weeks and months of saying the California media requests.

Nothing newsworthy came from the presser. Whitman talked about changing pension rules for state employees (which is not as controversial as it sounds — even State Sen. Joe Simitian, a Democrat, is pushing a bill to tinker with retirement benefits).  Otherwise, the “news” was the end of the news freeze. Big whoop — the press writing about itself.

For all the talk of Whitman’s curious approach to media relations, let’s trying looking at this from another perspective: not from the outside looking in, as the media do, but inside the Republican fishbowl looking out, as Team Whitman does. To wit:

Fact #1: Ms. Whitman’s neighborhood.

Whitman’s running in a Republican primary chock full of conservatives voters — conservative voters who hate the media.

Offending the sensibilities of the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee (three papers, btw, that won’t her endorse should she win the Republican nomination) makes life difficult for Whitman’s press operation.

But I’d argue there are plenty of rank-and-file primary voters thinking: good for her.

It may not make sense from June to November, but earning sympathy from grassroots Republicans who buy heavily into the concept of media bias can work to Whitman’s short-term benefit as she has something in common it voters: disdain for political reporters.

Fact #2: media manipulation.

There were two ways for Whitman to end the press freeze: do one-on-one interviews until her voice went hoarse, or throw them all together in get it over in one fell swoop.

She did the latter, and it was a smart move.

Absent any real attack from rival Steve Poizner, and knowing that the media stink at last September’s state party convention over her voting record was old news by now, Whitman had a low bar to clear: no mistakes, and she’s home free. And that;s what happened — no turnovers, no harm.

Kind of how the gubernatorial primary is playing out.

The weekend’s other newsmaker: GOP Senate hopeful nominee Carly Fiorina.

Like Whitman, it wasn’t what Fiorina said. It was she did — unveiled a clever ad, with the properly balanced message, in a well-staged appearance at Saturday’s luncheon.

Some won’t like the new “Hot Air” spot. They’ll say it’s over the top, like the infamous “Demon Sheep” ad. Or too derivative of Monty Python (where’s the giant foot squashing Barbara Boxer?).

They’re missing the point.

Republicans historically have run lousy campaigns against Boxer — in part, because they let their emotions get in the way. “Hot Air” goes after Boxer about as effectively as one can: makes fun of her divisive style, asks what she’s accomplished in three Senate terms, and uses the senator’s own sound bites against her.

To me, that’s a smarter approach than simply screaming “liberal, liberal, liberal”.

The other positive sign for Fiorina: the second half of the video, devoted to the candidate’s remarkable biography.

And that’s Fiorina’s trump card in the primary: a compelling human interest story that allows her separation from her two rivals.

For California Republicans, Fiorina’s climb from receptionist to Hewlett-Packard is more than a Horatio Alger story. It’s a reminder that the GOP believes in the opportunity society in which individual drive and ambition is rewarded, whereas liberal Democrats like Barbara Boxer believe in a government-leveled playing field that fuels inertia and mediocrity.

Fiorina did a nice job of working the convention crowd.

Even better: the message works.

And, given the chance, could work in November.

Written by Bill Whalen

March 14, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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