Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Jerry Meets and Beats the Press

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Not a great speaker, but he sure can beat the press

Here’s a lesson in diversion and clever media management, courtesy of California Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown.

The challenge: what news to make at last weekend’s California Democratic Party convention.

The problem: Brown’s notoriously wonkish, and not the sort of electric speaker who brings a crowd to its feet.

Nor is he a bomb-thrower prone to firing the sort of salvos a crowd of liberal activists want to hear, but not a more centrist November electorate (think: soaking the rich, amnesty for illegal immigrants, legalized marijuana).

The solution: challenge your likely opponent in the general election to something that will never happen, yet the attending political press can’t resist.

Which is what Brown did in challenging Republican Meg Whitman to a set of three-way debates that would include the other Republican in the governor’s race, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

The odds of this happening? About as likely as the McCourts patching things up.

More times that not, in politics, one candidate trying to call out the other on debates is a sure sign of weakness — if not flat-out desperation. You might recall John McCain trying to talk Barack Obama into one town hall event a week for the 10 weeks leading up to the November 2008. Why the dare? McCain wanted to be on the same stage, show he had the same if not more energy, and save a helluva lot of money by touring the country with Obama.

Since this story has precious little shelf life, here’s what I’d look for in the aftermath of the June primary (assuming the verdict is Brown v. Whitman).

1) Does Brown come out aggressively, right of the chute, challenging Whitman to Lincoln-Douglas debates up and down the state (something akin to the Lungren-Davis debates that put most Californians to sleep in the 1998 governor’s race)?

2) Or, does Whitman try to gain the high ground on debates by challenging Jerry. More likely: she adopts the frontrunner’s mentality, agrees to a limited number of get-togethers, and again low-balls expectations as she so effectively did in the primary (a strategy, btw, that worked well for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 election).

3) If Jerry really is into three-way debates, what would he say to sharing the stage with the Green Party candidate — or some other third-party contender who presumably wouldn’t be as determinedly anti-Whitman as Poizner?

If he insists to two-party debates — just him and Meg, with the rationale that the stage belongs only to those candidates with a serious chance of winning — then you have your answer as to whether this weekend’s offer was a serious gesture.

Or, a clever political stunt that was seriously effective at sending the press on a wild goose chase.

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Written by Bill Whalen

April 19, 2010 at 7:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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