Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Archive for October 2010

Can’t We All Just Get a Bong?

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National Review’s “The Corner” was kind enough run my quick look at why Proposition 19 (a) might do better than the polls suggest, and (b) (in my opinion) is doomed to failure.

The long and short of it:

1) “The Bradley Effect”. Named after the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, it’s the idea that voters aren’t always honest with pollsters — in this case, wanting to admit they’re pro-pot. Bradley, a black man who twice ran for governor, didn’t garner the actual votes that polls suggested (this also happened to Doug Wilder when he ran for governor of Virginia; Barack Obama, on the other hand, over-performed). btw, this concept isn’t limited to minority candidates. Not all Arnold Schwarzenegger fans wanted to admit they supported the action hero in the recall election. Look for the same dynamic if Sarah Palin runs in 2012 — for some, it’s simply not p.c. to admit liking the Mama Grizzly.

2) 19 doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. I’ve ranted on this before, so I’ll spare you another diatribe . . . aside from saying that the promised revenue won’t materialize, folks will find ways to skirt the new law. I just happen to believe that voters are cynical; they’re not buying into government-run promises of a better tomorrow (see “Obama, Barack, healthcare”).

3) Building on the idea of voters in a snit: people in a bad mood tend to vote “no” on initiatives, unless they’re pound-of-flesh ideas (specifically tough-on-crime measures). I suggest you look at the initiative, then guess how many — if any — stand a chance of passing.


Written by Bill Whalen

October 29, 2010 at 8:06 pm

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Shades of Gray and Pink

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Carly Fiorina, back on the trail

Carly Fiorina returned to the campaign trail today, a couple of days after being hospitalized for an infection related to reconstructive surgery she had during her bout with breast cancer.

The buzz among California political watchers is what if any effect her medical setback will have on her neck-and-race race with Sen. Barbara Boxer. Can Fiorina expect a bow wave of sympathy that convert to a surprise support? Or, is the result the very opposite, with voters more reluctant to vote for Fiorina after hearing the word “cancer?” Or , is it a wash?

It’s reminiscent of another Senate race — a state senate race — in Wisconsin. There, Republican Ed Thompson (brother of Tommy, the state’s former governor) is battling both a Democratic incumbent and pancreatic cancer. Thompson says he’s started an extensive series of chemotherapy treatments that only recently have been approved in the U.S., and that he might face surgery at some point down the road.

But he insists the disease isn’t diminishing his campaign. “I had worse in a couple of boxing matches,” he told reporters.

There’s also the presidential campaign of the late Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas. Challenging Bill Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 1992, Tsongas made his survival from non-Hodgkins lymphoma a part of his message. But he wasn’t honest about it. Tsongas said his doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston had given the candidate a cancer-free bill of health. In truth, his cancer wasn’t cured. Tsongas passed away on January 18, 1995 (at age 55, from pneumonia), just two days shy of what would have been the end of his first White House term had he and not Clinton ended up as America’s 42nd president.

And there were three cancer survivors in the field of 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls — John McCain (melanoma), Fred Thompson (lymphoma) and Rudy Giuliani (prostate). McCain, of course, got the nomination. But his cancer fight was problematic — both for the scar left on his face and how it contrasted to his younger, robust Democratic opponent.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that honesty is a problem for Fiorina — nor age (she’s turned 56 last month) or future treatments, surgeries or procedures.

But I am curious about how she could have/should have incorporated breast cancer into her political identity in this, her first campaign for public office.

Earlier in the race

A year ago, when she first entered the Republican senatorial primary, Fiorina openly discussed her struggles with the disease. She really had no other choice, given that her hair was shorn as a result of chemotherapy.

But she made another choice along the way: not to make breast cancer a focal point — a core identifying point — for why she’s running (other than saying that, after chemotherapy, Boxer isn’t that scary), or as a cancer survivor what policies concern her  (in particular, what a nationalized healthcare system would mean for other U.S. cancer patients). Moreover, you didn’t see Fiorina front and center at women’s health events during “Pink October” and breast-cancer awareness efforts.

Granted, there’s a fine line between discussing hardship and milking it for political purpose. New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy first introduced herself to the political world as a gun-control advocate and widow whose husband was killed in the Long Island Rail Road shooting. Here in California, Rep. Jackie Speier for two decades now hasn’t shied away from mentioning that she survived the Jonestown massacre.  In their defense, they’ll tell you they did into the pathos because it tells yow who they are, and why they seek office.

Following this election, aides from the top California campaigns will gather in Berkeley to discuss the highs and low of their efforts — which strategies worked, and which didn’t. I’m looking forward to what Team Fiorina says about cancer and the branding of the candidate who battled and defeated it.

Did focus groups and poll respondents find her health a net-plus or net-minus? Was wearing a pink ribbon (npw different from prostate-cancer survivor John Kelly wearing yellow “Live Strong” band on his left wrist in 2004, I’d contend) considered proper and justified, or did Fiorina’s political braintrust fear a pushback?

I think it ties into a subplot of this year’s election in California — two very accomplished women (Fiorina and Meg Whitman) and the question of how best to introduce them to the electorate: how tough, how soft, how feminine, how gender-neutral.

Hillary Clinton struggled with this in her presidential run.

So too did Whitman and Fiorina in this go-round.

Written by Bill Whalen

October 28, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Arnold, Lauer and Legacy

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Lauer and Schwarzenegger at the Women's Conference

The big news coming out of Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference yesterday in Long Beach is how the two gubernatorial candidates reacted to Matt Lauer’s challenge to stop their war of negative ads.

Jerry Brown was hesitant at first, handling the curveball question clumsily, slipping into weasel-worded nuance mode (as he did when asked about the “whore” comment in the last debate) before jumping on the audience bandwagon and going with the flow.

Whitman wasn’t any better. She couldn’t seem to decide if it was a good idea or a stunt/trap. So she didn’t go along with Jerry, didn’t suck up to Matt and was roundly booed by some of the 14,000 (mostly women)in attendance.

And sitting in the middle of the two candidates and relishing the sheer awkwardness of it all: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who seemed to think Lauer had a great idea.

(Sarcastic aside: I guess I didn’t get the memo four years ago, when Arnold announced a halt to his carpet-bombing of Phil Angelides . . .)

Personally, I thought Schwarzenegger was the story yesterday — far more interesting than anything Whitman and Brown had to say. And that’s because Arnold gave us a sneak preview of how he intends to market/peddle/spin/shape/justify/explain/extol/defend his legacy.

Give Arnold an A for originality. American presidents court historians with the hope of being remembered fondly. You might remember Bill Clinton doing lengthy, clandestine interviews with the noted civil-rights historian Taylor Branch. John F. Kennedy went so far as to hire Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. as Camelot’s in-court chronicler. It was a wise move: after Kennedy’s death, Schlesinger wrote the worshipful A Thousand Days.

And California’s governor? He used a “Today Show” host and a live audience to road-test his message.

I’ll give Lauer this: Arnold was spinning, Matt wasn’t buying it. Schwarzenegger gave himself an “A” for job performance, citing all kinds of progress on the environment, education and infrastructure. He suggested that California’s capital is a model for progress, whereas the nation’s capital is a sinkhole.

Lauer kept pushing back, trying to get the governor to admit that things hadn’t gone as swimmingly as he claimed, and that he didn’t conquer the political process. Arnold went as far as to say he was “irrelevant” in the fall election — a pretty ironic thing to say considering he’s been the straw that stirs California’s drink ever since he jumped into the recall election seven-plus years ago.

The push and pull continued. Lauer tried to get Schwarzenegger on the record as to whether a man or a woman brings better skills sets to the governor’s office, and to endorse Brown or Whitman. Arnold wouldn’t have any part of that, then rambled on about what matters most for a California governor is being in touch with the average person (again, a pretty ironic thing to say given Arnold’s lifestyle).

Remember him?

Personally, I find this disappointing, as Schwarzenegger’s initial appeal was his honesty — and his good-natured optimism and his anti-political appeal.

Arnold’s ability to laugh at the absurdity of his own success was a welcome relief to those pompous sorts whose campaigns, they’d have you believe, are driven by the Fates, not pollsters and focus groups and special-interest money.

Seven years ago, Schwarzenegger campaigned as a reformer on the Capitol steps, waiving a broom. If the Lauer interview is any indication, he plans to sweep the setbacks and shortcomings under the rug. 

I hope Honest Arnold returns for what time he has left in office. There’s no shame in admitting that the promise of the recall wasn’t realized. Sacramento isn’t fixed, and it’s hardly a model of virtue or progress.

That doesn’t mean Schwarzenegger can’t take success for matters in which he takes pride. That’s every governor’s right. But he should offer the public a non-airbrushed version of history.

Here’s a legacy talking point for the governor, on the house. As he prepares to leave office, California’s State Legislature has a 10% approval rating.

And it’s not Arnold’s fault . . . it’s to his credit.

Before Schwarzenegger took office, Sacramento was irrelevant to most Californians. Schwarzenegger changed that in a hurry. His wins and his losses were banner news. And when the reforms stalled, voters grew angry — at times with Arnold, but also with the bitterness and narrow-mindedness that dominates California politics.

So Arnold’s legacy: Sacramento is on notice — even Democrats, in this election, are running against the legislative institution they dominate. If things don’t change soon, and thanks to Schwarzenegger shining the spotlight on government, it will be possible to achieve epic political change, such as a part-time Legislature or a constitutional convention.

Why shy away from that?

Written by Bill Whalen

October 27, 2010 at 7:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Republican Cooley Dam

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Here’s the surf forecast for next week’s election as far as California Republicans are concerned.

Rising tide: Governor Whitman, U.S. Sen. Carly Fiorina, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado.

AG hopeful Steve Cooley

Low ebb: State Attorney General Steve Cooley — and nothing else to show for the GOP ticket.

That California Republicans would have little to show in the midst of a GOP “surge” year raises all kinds of questions about the nation-state’s electorate, and the state party’s ability to adapt to the times. Dan Morain, a Sacramento Bee columnist, wades into that thicket.

And it raises unpleasant memories of recent statewide elections: 2006, when Gov. Schwarzenegger breezed to re-election and only one Republican (Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner) prevailed in a down-ticket race; 2002, when not a single Republican won a state constitutional race; and 1998, when but two GOP incumbents (Secretary of State Bill Jones and Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush) were re-elected. 

But that Cooley is seen as a heavy favorite in the AG’s race speaks to something of a rarity in Golden State politics: a Republican’s built-in advantage, and a Democrat’s built-in liability.

Cooley’s advantage: a solid, non-controversial record as Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor, and the luxury of being a known entity in the one part of California that tends to decide AG races.

Harris’ liability: a decidedly mixed record, as San Francisco’s top prosecutor, that makes it easy to portray her as both public defender and top cop.

If the Republicans’ dread scenario occurs — Harris being the only statewide Democratic candidate to lose on Election Night — the irony will carry all the way to the White House. For all the effort President Obama poured into California to save his fellow Democrats’ bacon (stumping for Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer), Harris arguably is the one Californian he’d like to see win.

Why’s that?

She was an early supporter of Obama’s presidential campaign. And, at age 46 and possessing a most telegenic presence, Harris, the daughter of a Tamil mother and an Afro-Caribbean father, “could stand in as the prom queen for Barack Obama’s new post-racial America.” Or so LA Weekly believes.

Knowing that a Cooley win will disappoint the Obama White House obviously must please California GOP poohbahs. But if it’s the only positive on Election Night? Positively frustrating, positively disappointing.

Written by Bill Whalen

October 25, 2010 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

California and the Gender Gap

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If you’re following the California gubernatorial and senatorial races, then odds are you already know about the latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

It’s not such terrible news for Republican Carly Fiorina, who trails U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer by only five points (43%-38%) — a month ago, PPIC had Boxer up by seven (42%-35%).

 That’s a weak number for an incumbent — very weak considering Boxer heavy advertising the past month. If the Republican turnout is stronger than expected, while the Democratic ground game struggles, this race could go late into the night.

But it is bad new for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman, who’s now down by eight points to Attorney General Jerry Brown(44%-36%). A month ago, PPIC gave Whitman a 1-point lead.

I don’t want to waste your time deconstructing PPIC’s numbers. KQED’s always-insightful Jon Myers has a nice summary of the results, as do Cal Buzz co-editors Phil Troustine and Jerry Roberts. Meanwhile, over at Fox & Hounds, Joel Fox tells us not to give up on the good ship Whitman.

 I’ve read though the numbers. And, for all the attention given to Meg Whitman’s disconnect with Latino voters (she gets only 22% of that bloc, making for a 29% deficit), it’s another group that surprised me:

California women.

Whitman, seeking to be the first woman to serve as governor of the Golden State (Dianne Feinstein and Kathleen Brown tried and failed, respectively, in 1990 and 1994), received only 32% support from women, according to PPIC. Jerry Brown (Kathleen’s big brother) received 47%, making for a 15% gender gap . . . in the male candidate’s favor.

Let’s stop and do a little election math.

The Latino vote will be as much as one-fifth of the Election Day total (and that might be generous). So a 29% deficit among one-fifth of the electorate translates to roughly 6% of the overall vote.

Meanwhile, there’s the gender gap. Women make up one-half of the vote — maybe a little more in California. A 15% difference equals a 7.5% deficit in the total vote.

ok, so we’re arguing which is worse: down by 6% , or down by 7.5%. Kinda like debating if you’re happier having rickets or scurvy.

But the last time I checked, Margaret Cushing Whitman is not a Latina. But it does say “Sex: F” on her driver’s license. If it were me, I’d be more troubled by the poor performance with my peer group.

If Whitman ends up losing the election — and, in doing so, underperformed with women — you can count on about 180 million crackpots (present company included) positing 180 million different theories as to why Whitman, the $180 million candidate, failed.

Regarding the women’s vote, is the problem:

1) The Whitman campaign has so avoided gender politics that many women find it hard to identify or empathize with the candidate as a wife, mother and ultra-successful career woman;

2) Has the heavy focus (all the tv time) attacking Brown’s record and character ricocheted against the  Republican candidate, making her less likable;

3) Are California women less interested in a candidate who runs more on thematics (business approach to government; making Sacramento work) than an issue-specific approach to winning office;

4) Or is Whitman just the latest woman running for office who finds herself caught ‘twixt and ‘tween in terms of adding a “feminine mystique” to her campaign (see Clinton, Hillary, failed presidential run).

btw, one other note about PPIC and gender politics . . .

For all the media have tried to portray fellow tech-CEO’s Whitman and Fiorina as two peas in a Silicon Valley pods, they’re very different candidates. Whitman is centrist and cautious. Fiorina is conservative and feisty.

Yet, look at PPIC’s numbers: Whitman received 32% support among women; so did Fiorina. This, even though Fiorina is pro-life (Whitman is pro-choice) and further to the right on the environment (Fiorina supports Proposition 23, Whitman doesn’t).

That the two Republican women received the same percentage suggests, to me, that personality is much of a problem here as any specific issue.

Written by Bill Whalen

October 21, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Midterm Giants

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If the San Francisco Giants polish off the Philadelphia Phillies in today’s Game Five of the National League Championship Series, sportswriters won’t lack for reasons why: the Giants’ tremendous starting pitching; the Phillies’ lack of hitting; Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel’s questionable decision to go with journeyman Joe Blanton instead of ace Roy Halladay in Game Four.

But here’s another reason: political kismet.

The Giants have advanced to the World Series 4 times in the past 6 decades: 1954, 1962, 1989 and 2002.

With the exception of the ’89 Series (famously interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake), those 3 other appearances have one thing in common:

Each occurred during a presidential first-term, mid-term election.

1954: Eisenhower

1962: Kennedy

2002: Bush 43

2010(?): Obama

Or, look at it another way:

Republican president . . . Democratic president . . . Republican president . . . Obama?

Here’s something else for political junkies to consider: a World Series matchup between the Giants and the Texas Rangers (like San Francisco, one win away from clinching the American League Championship Series).

That would be Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco vs. George W. Bush’s Texas.

Deepest of Blue-State America vs. Reddest of Red-State America.

Would Pelosi sit (naturally) to Bush's left?

In other words, the Fall Classic mirrors the fall election.

Of course, should this happen, there would be an opportunity for the left and the right to come together.

Call it the mother of all bipartisan gestures: Bush and Pelosi bonding for nine innings by the dugout.

The former president is careful about his diet — can’t see him digging into the garlic fries at AT&T Park.

Madame Speaker doesn’t strike me as the kind of gal who’d much care for the Rangers’ signature “loaded big dog” (a 1/2-pound loaded with chili, cheese and onions).

Question: who’d get the warmer reception? Bush, in San Francisco? Or Pelosi, deep in the heart of Texas?

Written by Bill Whalen

October 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“Echo”-ing Across California

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“I will not change my beliefs to win votes. I will offer a choice, not an echo.”

— Barry Goldwater, presidential campaign announcement, 1/03/1964

Forty-six years ago, Barry Goldwater was on the wrong side of a landslide election — the author of a presidential run notable for two things: (1) its absolute adherence to principles, no matter the political implications; (2) introducing future candidate Ronald Reagan to the American electorate via his memorable “Time for Choosing” speech.

Fast-forward to 2010 and the concept of “choice, not an echo” has reemerged in California’s governor’s race. And, this time, it’s the Democrat running with it.

Jerry Brown’s latest tv ad (title: “Echo”) is nothing more than side-by-side audio-visuals of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican candidate Meg Whitman uttering far-too-similar sound bites (Arnold first, Meg second, on all sorts of things from leadership to taxes and spending).

Is the ad effective? Yes.

Here’s why:

1) In a “change” election, it’s a clever way of positioning Brown, the four-decade career politician and 16-year veteran of various statewide offices, rather than Whitman (first race, never has held office) as the “breath of fresh air” candidate in the race.

 2) It makes Whitman walk the “Arnold tightrope” — lauding the big man so as not to offend independents, but also criticizing him so as not to offend core Republicans. Californians are conflicted about Schwarzenegger: they give him low marks as governor, but they don’t personally revile him. Brown also has to tread carefully re. Schwarzenegger, but his campaign smartly recognizes theat the burden lies with a Republican hopeful looking to replace a Republican incumbent.

3) It puts Whitman on the defensive as a scripted, consultant-drive candidate. Whitman’s surrounded by former Schwarzenegger campaign and gubernatorial aides. No harm there. And it’s perfectly forgivable if her campaign adopts similar tactics, like Meg’s current bus tour (which he got from Arnold, who got it from John McCain — all of whom hired Mike Murphy). We forget that Arnold twice has won statewide elections, which is two more wins than most other Republicans can claim.

But the same words? Not good.

We’ll find out soon enough how Schwarzenegger feels about all of this — in particular, what a man who takes his popularity very seriously and wants to be thought of as a political nonconformist thinks about being used as a cudgel by rival candidates.

Next Tuesday, Arnold, Jerry and Meg are scheduled to get together at California First Lady Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference in Long Beach and discuss “Who We Are, Where We Are Going.”

Who we are? That’s easy. Meg’s Arnold . . . Jerry’s Barry.

Where are we going? Let’s see if any of the three — governors past, present and future — can answer that one.

Written by Bill Whalen

October 20, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized