ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 03: Meg Whitman, former President and CEO of EBay, speaks on day three of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center on September 3, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The GOP will nominate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as the Republican choice for U.S. President on the last day of the convention. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A funny thing happened to Meg Whitman on the way to the GOP Gubernatorial nomination.
It wasn’t long ago the former E-Bay CEO was 40 points ahead of Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. I for one thought the race was close to being over. Whitman started focusing some of her attacks on Jerry Brown whom she assumed she would be facing in the fall. Even some of Poizner’s campaign attacks were thought to be somewhat beneficial to “Meg”. By tying Whitman to Democrats such as Al Gore and President Obama Poizner was actually giving her a leg up in attracting moderate Democrats for the fall election.
That was before two events that the Whitman campaign did not anticipate. The kind of events that make political campaigns such dynamic animals... the kind that can turn a blowout into a horse race.
Illegal Immigration wasn’t considered a very important issue. Research indicated most voters, including Republicans, had other things on their mind such as the economy and the state’s double-digit unemployment rate. The LA Times even ran a story to that effect.
Then the Arizona state legislature passed a law, which brought national attention to the issue. The law, signed by the state’s Republican governor, allowed for police in Arizona to enforce federal immigration law. If the officer, while investigating a crime, developed reasonable suspicion that a person was in the country illegally that officer was given permission to ask for documentation.
Democrats and civil rights activists were outraged. Republicans, in general, support the idea. The problem is that when the law was severely attacked in the media (KNBC even ran a ‘commentary’ against it) conservative voters got their back up. Now the issue, dormant for so long, was now on the front burner much to the delight of Steve Poizner. The former Silicon Valley CEO had made the issue a fundamental plank in his campaign… arguing during a debate I moderated that there should be a return to Prop 187, the 90’s effort to eliminate social services for those in the country illegally.
Whitman on the other hand didn’t endorse the Arizona law and has had to defend the notion that she supports “amnesty” for those in the country illegally. She says she doesn’t… but Poizner has argued her past support of the failed Kennedy-McCain immigration reform act made her a de-facto supporter of amnesty.
But Whitman’s response to the immigration issue is far easier than the second shoe to drop… Goldman Sachs.
Whitman was on the board of GS but left in 2004 because she says it “wasn’t a good fit”. But she still benefited from early notice of IPO’s (initial public offerings) of stocks and still has investments managed by the firm. When the powerhouse was sued by the federal government for alleged misdeeds in the collapse of the mortgage market Poizner jumped at the chance to portray Whitman as an out of touch corporate tycoon who had made a fortune while so many others lost their homes.
Adding to that impression may be one other possible miscalculation: Whitman’s campaign spending. The candidate’s worth is estimated at over a Billion dollars. She needed to spend money to get her name and message out to voters but by dominating the airwaves as much as she has there is the potential she may have inadvertently cemented her role as a rich corporate ‘fat cat”.
Whitman may get a break this Friday. That’s when Governor Schwarzenegger unveils his “May revise” of the state budget. If the numbers are bad… as they are expected to be…she might be able to refocus public attention on what she has long said would be the deciding issues of this campaign: jobs and the economy.