Whitman Rising

In a development that should not surprise anyone, the newest Field Poll shows Meg Whitman with a narrow lead over Jerry Brown in the general election matchup, and a massive lead over Steve Poizner:

GOP Primary

March 2010 (January ’10)

Whitman 63 (45)

Poizner 14 (17)

Undecided 23 (38)

General Election

March 2010 (January ’10, October ’09)

Whitman 46 (36, 29)

Brown 43 (46, 50)

Undecided 11 (18, 21)

Brown 49 (48, 50)

Poizner 32 (31, 25)

Undecided 19 (21, 25)

The crosstabs are even more interesting. Whitman gets 77% of Republicans but Brown only gets 69% of Democrats (with Whitman taking 20%). Independents now break 50-36 for Whitman. Whitman has opened up clear leads in Southern California (45-40 in LA County, 54-37 in the rest of the region) and the Central Valley (57-30) while Brown has strong leads in the Bay Area and the rest of Northern California. That’s an extremely ominous sign for Democrats, since the governorship cannot be won without taking LA County and running much better in the other SoCal counties and the Central Valley.

The only age group that currently supports Brown is us younger voters, with 18-29 year olds backing him 46-36. The other two groups support Whitman, with 40-64 year olds backing her 49-42, and even the older voters who are supposedly Brown’s base are deserting him for Whitman, 50-40.

Another ominous sign for Brown are his numbers broken down by racial/ethnic groups. Whitman not only has whites (50-41), but also Asians (55-33) and even has 42% of blacks to Brown’s 58%, though the sample size for both Asians and blacks are quite small. Brown still has strong support from Latinos, 54-25.

What explains all this? It’s not just Whitman’s ability to spend millions of her own money. California’s political landscape is littered with the bodies of those who thought they could just write checks and get themselves elected – Michael Huffington, Al Checchi, Steve Westly.

The difference with Whitman is she knows how to spend her money wisely. Her campaign team is an extremely knowledgeable and well-disciplined machine, full of people who are not only smart, but who know how to respond quickly to the public.

Last week proved the point. Whitman and her campaign spokeswoman Sarah Pompei looked like fools at the Union Pacific “press event” where Whitman refused to take questions. The key was Whitman’s response. After being hammered by the media for days, Whitman and Pompei unveiled a completely new – and much more effective – strategy at the CRP convention. Whitman met not just once but twice with the press on Friday, and got some very generous coverage out of a press corps that wanted to reward her for finally talking to them.

Whitman’s saturation bombing of TV airwaves in the state also appears to have been extremely effective. The ads, which do not once mention Whitman is a Republican, paint her as a moderate who wants to solve California’s problems and bring her successes at an iconic Silicon Valley company to state government. Whitman’s platform may be to the right of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, but in her communications to the public she comes off as a reasonable moderate.

Meanwhile, Jerry Brown’s campaign appears to once again be AWOL after having done a round of media interviews last month. Brown may be trying to hoard his cash while Poizner beats up on Whitman, but judging by Poizner’s nearly 50-point deficit, that doesn’t look too likely to produce results. Brown has to start doing more active campaigning – he can do so in a financially efficient way, but he has to start getting himself and his message out there to the public. The longer Whitman can do it herself, the more she will grow and consolidate her lead.

Brown needs to introduce himself to a new generation of voters and secure their current loyalties. He also needs to address the concerns of others in the Democratic base – particularly African Americans and Asian Americans – who are seemingly giving Whitman a close look.

Back in January I explained what Jerry Brown needed to do to win. I offered that not for my own amusement, but in the hopes that the Brown campaign would look at it and adopt some of its recommendations. So far they do not appear to have done so, for reasons that are entirely unclear to me.

As Meg Whitman rolls to the lead in the polls, California Democrats wonder and wait to see how Jerry Brown will respond. Democrats will work hard to try and elect Brown, but it’s going to be an uphill battle unless he does something to change the campaign. Whitman is a juggernaut who is running one of the most effective campaign operations we’ve seen in this state in a long time. Brown has to come up with something new with which to fight back.

UPDATE: Calbuzz has the Brown campaign’s response, from spokesman Sterling Clifford:

Meg Whitman has spent a year and $40 million running for governor and what that’s accomplished is that she’s in a virtual dead heat with Jerry Brown, who launched his campaign two weeks ago.

7 thoughts on “Whitman Rising”

  1. Right on every point.

    (Slaps imaginary Jerry Brown hard across the face, and yells, “Pull yourself together, man!”

  2. This is what you get when you refuse to campaign. I have yet to see any evidence that there is a campaign beyond that which you’d build for a state legislative race.

    I’m scared.

    This needs to be a wake-up call.

  3. I think the main concern here is money, Whitman has deep pockets and Brown has to be in position where he has enough funds to last through the general. It’s still early though and I fully expect him to come up with something soon.

  4. Remember that the result was in the margin of error and the house effect of Field is to skew older, Republican, and SoCal. If you spend $40 million unopposed for as long as she has you can buy up a lot of eyeballs. The real victim here is Poizner who has been beaten to a pulp. I don’t see Whitman having any sort of GOTV apparatus though I suppose she could hire some. Jerry Brown is one of the best rope a dopers around- don’t count him out for a while.  

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