Friday, January 22, 2010

California Governor Race Pares Down

Former U.S. Representative Tom Campbell’s departure from California’s gubernatorial race last week has shaken things up in the Golden State… kind of. While he’d been arguably the best qualified of the GOP candidates – with a Harvard law degree, a Ph.D. in economics, a long history of public service – his financially magnificent adversaries Meg Whitman (former eBay chief) and Steve Poizner (state insurance commissioner) have already brought to bear a collective $50 million in campaign funds, an amount that the former dean of UC Berkeley’s business school was simply unable to match.

For a taste of Campbell's approach to public finances, watch the video above, in which Campbell gives The Commonwealth Club's 2008 economic forecast. Whitman will discuss her plans for the governor's office in a February 16 speech to The Commonwealth Club in Lafayette.

As Campbell moves on to less-competitive pastures (on the other hand, now he’s contending for a Senate seat with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina? hmm), Whitman and Poizner are preparing to square off in earnest.

Whitman, who has delivered a strong message to Californians with months of radio spots and campaign advertisements, has a lead of 45 percent to 17 percent over Commissioner Poizner in a recent Field Poll. The same poll indicates that Whitman’s campaign clearly benefited the most from Campbell’s exit, picking up moderate, financially conservative voters and putting her even further ahead of her remaining, quiet challenger.

The balance will doubtlessly change as Poizner finally loosens his purse strings – but after Whitman’s shock-and-awe strategy, will it be too late? Thirty-eight percent of Republican voters remain undecided, yes; but 20 percent say they view Poizner unfavorably. That’s 17-percent positive versus 20 percent negative. It’s a simple metric, sure, but it looks like the California GOP may actually prefer Poizner to run for the other team.

Would it be too impish to suggest that the Democrats are also working toward a GOP win? All of its candidates have successively dropped out of the race against a man who hasn’t even announced a formal candidacy, yet: former California Governor (1974-1983) and current California Attorney General Jerry Brown. The mayor of L.A., the mayor of San Francisco and the lieutenant governor were all able to assess their collective chances as less than excellent against the man who fought Clinton all the way to the Democratic National Convention in ’92.

But then, Brown did it almost on a dare, using only a $100-per-person contribution limit and an 800 number. Maybe he is the one to challenge Whitman — the most likely GOP candidate, at this time.
Perhaps predictably, both sides of the party line are acknowledging the economy as a primary issue in the gubernatorial election. The impact of Republican Scott Brown’s recent Senate win in Massachusetts, too, reveals an important shift as voters begin leaning away from Washington and toward small-government, fiscally conservative candidates – campaign finances aside, of course.

--By Andrew Harrison


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