Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Poizner’s Latest: Old Issue, Good Timing

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An old issue -- her voting record -- could cause new problems for Meg Whitman

At first glance, you might wonder why Steve Poizner’s campaign decided to dredge up the issue of Meg Whitman’s spotty voting record.  In a new tv ad, he claims she didn’t bother to vote for 28 years — an allegation Team Whitman denies.

It’s not as if Poizner is breaking entirely new ground here. You might recall that she was raked over the coals, over the very same topic, at last fall’s state party convention — a bad press conference that turned into several days of more bad coverage as the Whitman campaign tried to sort through her voting past (or lack thereof).

“I was focused on raising a family, on my husband’s career, and we moved many, many times,” she told reporters at the time. “It is no excuse. My voting record, my registration record, is unacceptable.”

Does this signify a fork in the road — that Team Poizner has run out of ammo, with nearly a month to go until the June 8, is serving warmed-over leftovers?

No, just the opposite, a very smart (and, btw, politically unaligned) friend of mine explains.

The thinking goes like this: Poizner deliberately reintroduced the Whitman voting record literally at the very same moment absentee ballots are arriving in voters’ mailboxes. Not coincidentally, those are the same voters probably most motivated by this issue — they read their voter information guides word for word, they put serious thought into their ballots, they’re offended by the thought of a candidate taking a voting siesta for 28 years.

Poizner probably knows that. Let’s assume he’s also smart enough to know that the Whitman campaign can do precious little other than argue his attack ad’s specifics. By claiming she was too busy to vote, Whitman risks offending middle-class voters who live a far different lifestyle — not to mention every woman who takes pride in her multitasking. By taking it up with the press, she risks turning her voting record into a multi-day story, which is what occurred last September when the candidate and her campaign couldn’t get their facts straight.

Arnold: also a voting latecomer

At this point, Whitman supporters may want to cry foul — or, at least, double standard. I don’t remember Governor Schwarzenegger catching this much heat, back in the 2003 recall race, over his inability to exercise his democratic right (reporters did their digging and discovered that Arnold hadn’t voted in 5 of the previous 11 statewide elections).

But Schwarzenegger had something going for him back then, as a newcomer, that Whitman doesn’t in this go-round. By the time of that first gubernatorial effort, he already had sponsored a statewide initiative (the after-school Proposition 49, in November 2002 election).  And, in the year leading up to that contest, Arnold had privately and publicly flirted with the idea of challenging Gray Davis — to the point where a Schwarzenegger candidacy in 2006 was more expected than not.

The point is: Arnold’s voting record, like Whitman’s, was a liability. But he had an activist record to fall back on (after-school programs, Special Olympics, President’s/Governor’s Councils on Physical Fitness.  She doesn’t. And, coupled with the vast personal fortune she’s invested in her candidacy (another $5 million this week, pushing the total to $64 million), and that makes her campaign look all the more mercenary.

Any guesses how Whitman will counter Poizner’s latest attack?


Written by Bill Whalen

May 14, 2010 at 6:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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