And the Winner Is . . . Television
But an obvious winner won’t be a man or a woman, a Democratic or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative: it’s your old friend television, which in this primary proved once again that campaigns in California are won or lost by their presence (or lack thereof) on the airwaves.
Take, for example, the Republican gubernatorial primary. Meg Whitman surged ahead early, courtesy of an unmatched TV blitz. Steve Poizner narrowed the gap, once his ad campaign (a decidedly ant-Whitman effort) egan in earnest. And then Whitman widened her lead (or so recent polls have suggested) by . . . once again stepping up her TV presence (featuring, yes, a lot of anti-Poizner messaging, plus this 30-second, seriously conservative, “save California spot).
As for the GOP Senate primary, consider the fortunes or Carly Fiorina and Tom Campbell. The former is stepping on the gas, TV-wise, in the home stretch — as her campaign always planned. Most recently, Fiorina has started airing an ad that suggests she’s already looking ahead, and beyond next Tuesday, to the fall campaign. That ad, and her upward movement in the polls, give the former HP chair the look and feel of an inevitable winner.
Meanwhile, there’s Campbell’s curious TV strategy. Earlier this week, his campaign announced it was forgoing a last round of TV buys. Then, this morning, his campaign reversed course and announced they do indeed plan to go on TV — albeit, in a limited buy? Why the switch? It may be that, by deciding to go dark, Campbell gave the impression that his campaign was calling it quits.
And so we see the dual role that television plays in California politics: as a mover of votes, and a means for gauging a candidate’s strength.
Each election cycle, it seems, brings a California candidate who decides he or she will do things different — namely, a campaign strategy not built around strategy. Campbell tried it in this election — talking up the wonders of the Internet and viral campaigning. So too did Chuck DeVore, the third-place Republican in the Senate primary, try an alternate strategy: pinning in hopes on the Tea Party mob.
It begs this question, which we’ll further discuss next week if the current numbers prove true: should Whitman start running negative ads against Jerry Brown and positive bio spots about herself, once the primary dust settles, or wait until later this summer to start another Mega-bucks TV buy?