Playing Poker, California Style

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In poker, a player wins through one of two strategies: by having the best hand outright or bluffing his way to victory.

More times than not, players with potentially winning hands never collect the pot because of the victor's ability to pull off strategy number two, a shrewd psychological ploy that allows a player to maximize his resources because of timing, discipline and nerve. It's a risky approach because if the bluff is called too many times and found to be without merit, then the player utilizing this technique loses all advantages and quickly becomes marginalized. On the other hand, if the strategist succeeds, he may be able to pull off miraculous outcomes through guile as a substitute for financial resources.

Which takes us to the political poker game between Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman. It's a high stakes game, with reign over California for the next four years serving as the final pot. Clearly, the players have different resources and different strategies.

In this game, the largely self-funded Meg Whitman clearly has financial dominance. The latest data show that she is badly outspending Brown. Since January 1 of this year, Whitman has spent about $364,000 per day; Brown has spent a total of $633,000 for the entire seven plus months. It's not by accident. To date, Whitman has self-funded $91 million of the $109 million raised by her campaign. Brown has been aided by about $7 million from various independent expenditures. Still, no matter how you cut it, the campaign spending to date is about as one-sided as it gets.     

Whitman is attempting to win this game by raising the stakes in every hand to the point of making the election a one-player contest. She hopes to hike the ante to such a level that Brown will be rendered uncompetitive, and therefore the loser. It's what one does with financial resources. For his part, Brown is attempting to win the game by employing guile as a replacement for capital. As such, he has to be careful about when he plays a hand and when he doesn't. So far, Brown has played little, with nary so much as a single television or radio ad. Instead, he has chosen to save his resources for later in the campaign season when the pots will grow with the approach of election day. In place of money, Brown has remained visible through announcements in his post as attorney general, on line releases of campaign positions, and countless appearances at neutral venues where Whitman has been absent. It's what a poker player does when he's watching his undersized resources.

Incredibly, Brown's strategy may be working, at least to the point of preventing a Whitman runaway. The latest polls have Brown with a 3 point lead over Whitman. That's a statistical tie in the eyes of the pollsters, still it shows that the Brown strategy has life. It's not only left Whitman supporters asking "$109 million for this?" but it has emboldened the Brown camp to continue with its strategy. Meanwhile, has squirreled away more than $23 million, which has been collected during the year--an amount that leaves him with twice as much money as Whitman at this point in the campaign.

Meanwhile, back at the poker table, Meg Whitman must invest more funds to stay in the game--potentially as much as $100 million more between now and November 2nd. Another player might well withdraw in the face of such resources, but why should Jerry Brown? If he's held her to a draw or better to this point, he may surprise a lot of people with his poker playing at the end of the game.     

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