SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 16: Republican candidate for California Governor Steve Poizner speaks to reporters during a news conference outside the meeting of the Commission on the 21st Century Economy July 16, 2009 in San Francisco, California. Poizner told reporters that he will emphasize tax cuts to stimulate the economy and create jobs as he runs for governor of California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Why in the world would Democrats help a Republican conservative convert like Poizner? Because they believe that he will be by far the weaker candidate in the general election on November 3.
This strategy may seem convoluted, but it has worked before.
When Democratic Governor Gray Davis ran for re-election in 2002, he faced an increasingly nervous electorate. The state's economy, power crisis and Davis' hubris combined to leave the incumbent uncomfortably vulnerable. Popular Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and wealthy businessman Bill Simon battled for the Republican party's nomination, with most observers convinced that the moderate Riordan would be much more likely to defeat Davis in November than the conservative Simon.
Democrats loyal to Davis went to work. They spent $10 million during the pre-primary period pummeling Riordan on his character, stands on key issues, and ability to lead the state. Between the conservative opposition on the right and Democratic assault on the left, Riordan didn't have a chance. Simon won the primary, and Davis eeked out a five point victory the following November.
Sound familiar? In 2010 the players may have changed but the game is the same. Two new independent expenditure committees are now attacking Whitman with collective war chests that may amount to as much as $40 million. "The California Accountability Project," sponsored by the Democratic Governors Association, and "Level the Playing Field 2010," a hybrid group of unions and wealthy Democrats, have taken to the air waves, print media, and Internet with the singular goal of undermining the Whitman candidacy. Pouncing on Whitman's association with Goldman Sachs, her largely self-funded campaign, and other character issues, these groups have been immensely helpful to Poizner in the short run and perhaps presumptive Democratic nominee Jerry Brown in the long run. Tightened Republican polls suggest the former and the divergence between the new Poizner philosophy and most Californians may auger well for the latter.
The result may be a general election campaign without Meg Whitman and her very deep pockets, thereby making it easier for Democrat Jerry Brown to compete against Poizner. The old adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" may be one for the history books, but it's very much a part of California's election climate in 2010.