The primary season officially kicked off yesterday, with the defeat of former-Republican/now-Democrat Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. Here in the Golden State, we are still 3 weeks away from our set of primaries, which will determine candidates for a number of statewide offices. The highest of these offices is, of course, governor, and the eventual victor in November will sadly be replacing our current Cauleefornia-pronouncing superhero. I guess all good things must come to an end! In any case, I’ve already voted absentee for our former-governor/next-governor Jerry Brown (who would break and likely keep the record for the longest-serving California governor in history), who is generally running unopposed in the Democratic primary. The contest to face off with Governor Brown in November pits billionaire Meg Whitman against millionaire Steve Poizner, and while it didn’t look like a race for the majority of the campaign, this battle has turned into a dogfight and should be extremely entertaining in the next 20 days.
Less than 2 months ago, Whitman, the former eBay CEO, had a 50-point lead on the state Insurance Commissioner. No, I’m not making that up. Of course, this wasn’t too surprising, as Whitman had used million after million on TV and radio spots for quite some time, and no one really knew who Steve Poizner was. However, in the past month, Mr. Poizner decided to start fighting. His first set of ads were fairly weak (remember the car going over the cliff?), but fortunately someone eventually told him that he needed to get aggressive. He pulled Whitman into an ad war about which Republican had better conservative credentials, brought up her former support of Barbara Boxer, attacked her on immigration, and is now going after her long history of non-participation at the polls. These attacks seem to be paying off, as the latest poll in the race (by Survey USA) shows that Poizner is now within the margin of error, and trails Whitman 39-37. An update to the 50-point gap PPIC poll comes out this week, and should give a better indication of whether Poizner’s efforts are paying off:
It will be an affirmation of a collapse of epic proportions, a $60 million machine that would be in receivership if the currency were bankable ideas. After all that cash, all those gauzy ads and marketing schemes, all that trouble to insulate Whitman and elevate her as the inevitable candidate, it’s basically back to square one. With three weeks to go.
Whitman is clearly in an uncomfortable position. The fact that she’s a political novice is really starting to show, and this could prove troubling as she tries to hold onto her once-enormous lead. I watched the second of two GOP primary debates recently, and was really impressed by Poizner’s performance as compared to Whitman’s. (If you’re a junkie like myself and have some free time, you can watch the debate here.) Her response to Poizner’s latest attacks comes in the form of a 60-second defensive TV ad which is seriously weak and probably confuses a lot of people:
Whitman folks say her own comeback started with a widely panned ad that has the former CEO of eBay looking into the camera reassuring Republican voters that she’s “working hard to defeat” Barbara Boxer, leaving open the question of who Whitman is actually running against. She also defends her position on immigration, the issue that Poizner has seized by announcing his support of the Arizona anti-illegal immigration law, and by accusing Whitman of supporting amnesty.
It’s lots of fun seeing the Whitman campaign go into panic mode. She was so inevitable for so long, but now GOP voters are starting to pay attention to the race, and many aren’t too comfortable with what they’re seeing and hearing about her. Will she be defeated after having put $68 million (and counting) into her own campaign and owning a 50-point lead in the polls? It would be one of the greatest collapses in modern California politics.
Update: The new PPIC poll just came out. It shows that Whitman’s former 50-point lead has been reduced to single digits. She now leads Poizner 38-29 among GOP voters. (Compare this to a 61-11 lead back in March.) For the full report, see here. The headline states, “Stunning Drop in Whitman’s Support Transforms GOP Race for Governor.” No kidding. Other interesting poll results are that Governor Brown leads Whitman by 5 points and Poizner by 13 points in hypothetical general election matchups. The GOP Senate primary is also extremely close, with Carly Fiorina leading her opponents, Tom Campbell and Chuck DeVore, 25-23-16. 36% are still undecided. Senator Boxer holds leads over all 3 GOP hopefuls, and has a surprising overall approval rating of 50%.