Jerry Brown Swims Against the Republican Tide

October 29th, 2010

A number of new polls out in the past week and a half show that California voters may be bucking the national trend by voting Democratic at the top of the ticket.

A raft of new polling has been released in the past two weeks, and almost all polling has shown significant bounces for Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer. Brown is up by margins ranging from 7-10 and Boxer leads Fiorina by margins from 3-7. Brown is at or over 50% in most polls, while Boxer is close to that mark.

Obviously there are different dynamics at play in the two races, but one theme is constant: Republicans in California almost always have to tack too far to the right in order to win in an increasingly smaller and more conservative Republican party and then can’t win in general elections. This dynamic is exacerbated by racial divisions between a Republican party electorate which insists on a hard line when it comes to illegal immigration and a general election electorate in which Latinos play the role of an increasingly important swing demographic.

Looking specifically at Governors race, Whitman’s campaign has had a rough few weeks. When it’s all over, I think we’ll look back and see the breaking of the scandal with eMeg’s maid as a turning point.  The contrast between her defending the “tough as nails” positions on illegal immigration she had to take in order to win the nomination and the fact that she employed an illegal immigrant was striking. The fact that she had to defend that contradiction in a debate the next week was icing on the cake and her ham handed attempts to do so were like a cherry on top.    

The nature of California campaigns is that they are lean heavily on the strength of ad campaigns, so it’s not surprising the the final story lines of the campaign can be tracked by trends in political ads. Whitman blanketed the airwaves for almost a year straight, spending almost $150 million of her own money on the race. One Brown supporter joked that Whitman was on his TV every time he turned it on and that one time his TV actually turned itself on and Whitman was on it. After a year straight of constant Whitman commercials, people tended to just tune out every time her face came on the screen. 

Whitman’s diminishing returns from the saturation campaign were exacerbated by the fact that Jerry Brown was an unlikely person to tag with the “just another career Democratic politician in hock to the unions” label. California’s are familiar with Brown and he is known as an eccentric and an iconoclast, not just another career politician. Brown wasn’t able to match Whitman on the air until Labor Day and the fact that they were neck and neck at that point didn’t bode well for eMeg.

Brown’s ads down the stretch have also been particularly effective at using Whitman’s words against her. One shows Whitman offering the exact same rationale for her campaign that unpopular Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave for his. The most recent ad has been called Brown’s coup de gras by Chris Matthews, following Meg Whitman’s oft repeated statement that when she and her husband moved to California thirty years ago, anything was possible, with a reminder that the Governor at that time was…none other than Jerry Brown.

In the meantime, Whitman belatedly realized that her image was increasingly frosty and decided that the last two weeks of the campaign would be a good time to introduce herself to the California electorate. Except that the California electorate already knew her. She’s the lady who’se been on their TV every hour of every day for the past year…and the lady who campaigned as tough on immigration…but harbored an illegal immigrant in her own house.   

This weekend, Whitman may have suffered the ultimate indignity of the campaign when the woman running to become the first woman Governor of California was booed at the Women’s Forum after she refused Matt Lauer’s suggestion to halt all negative ads for the last week of the campaign. As Calbuzz pointed out, with a 10 point lead and one week to go, Jerry Brown was able to take the high road, volunteering to take his negative ads off the TV if Whitman would do the same.

I don’t want to jinx anything, cause anything could happen, but as another great Californian used to say, the eggs are coolin, the jello’s jigglin and the butter’s gettin hard.

It may be time to put this one in the refrigerator.

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