Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Rise (and Fall?) of the eMeg

At last report, Meg Whitman has spent an unprecedented 163 million on her campaign. Much of the first blast went to airing this one minute ad, "Confidence," starting in early April, as part of a juggernaut-momentum strategy. It seemed like it ran at least once per hour on TV:

It's a well made spot, it's positive, and a good "introduction to the candidate." For those seeking a change and not too picky about the standard plutocrat pabulum, I imagine it was pretty effective – and Whitman was doing well back then. Reuters reported back on 4/5/10:

Billionaire Republican Meg Whitman has built a slight lead in the California governor's race after contributing a record-breaking $39 million to her own campaign, a Los Angeles Times/USC poll showed on Monday.

The former CEO of online auction house eBay Inc., making her first bid for elected office, has 44 percent of the vote to Democratic candidate and former governor Jerry Brown's 41 percent, according to the poll for the November election.

The winner will succeed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

In what is expected to be the most expensive nonpresidential election in U.S. history, Whitman has spent millions on television ads ahead of the June primary and holds a 40-percentage point lead over Republican Steve Poizner.

"The story is the money. The amount of money and the level of advertising Whitman has run to date is not only unprecedented ... it has had a very clear marked effect on campaign," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

"Among people who have seen her ads, Whitman is beating (Brown) handily, but she's losing to those who have not seen them," Schnur said.

Whitman's $39 million contribution is a record in California for candidates donating to their own campaigns.

More than seven months ahead of the general election, she has spent $46 million, a record for a candidate in a California statewide election and more than Schwarzenegger spent in his entire 2006 campaign.

Anecdotally, some people got really sick of the constant Whitman ads, though, it seemed she was trying to "buy" the governorship, and growing familiarity did not seem to make her any more likable. In March, she called a press conference to make a speech and then refused to take questions. (This seemed to be the "command-and-control management style" a recent Mercury News described.) Her primary battle with Steve Poizner also hurt her. As Dave Dayen wrote back in May, after her sizable lead over Poizner shrunk dramatically:

What can account for this epic crash? First off, the Poizner ad tying eMeg to Goldman Sachs is, outside of the Joe Sestak’s closing ad against Arlen Specter, the best of the cycle.

Beyond that, Whitman just punched herself out. The massive pre-primary spending became the story more than her worth as a candidate, and when Poizner and his millions got competitive on air it became a race. Whitman’s been pretty terrible in the two debates thus far as well. Also, the CA Republican primary electorate is, shall we say, crazy, and Poizner has one of the staunchest conservatives, Tom McClintock, on his side. His personal testimonial ad for Poizner is pretty successful, as he’s the most high-profile conservative in the state.

Two other issues made her look very bad as well – her not voting for decades, and that her former housekeeper had been in the country illegally. Whitman began campaigning on being "tough" on illegal immigrants back during his primary race with Poizner, and when the housekeeper story broke, it made her look dishonest and hypocritical. (My favorite quip on the matter is: "In fairness to Whitman, she shouldn’t be criticized for this episode, because for the first nine years she employed the illegal alien she didn’t know that she would someday need to demagogue the illegal immigration issue.")

Some of Whitman's later ads seemed successful. I suspect this one, featuring Bill Clinton and airing starting in early September, was one of her most effective. I'm guessing they were targeting swing voters and disenchanted Democrats. (Perhaps it also served as red meat for the conservative base – even Bill Clinton doesn't like Jerry Brown!)

Finally, I'm not sure I ever saw this one air on TV – it's called "Strong Leadership," but I had to post it because I think "Douchebags" fits it better:

It seems this would only appeal to rich Republicans who would already be inclined to vote for Whitman anyway – and maybe that's why this one didn't air much, at least in Los Angeles. As Harold Meyerson's put it, Romney "approaches the Platonic Ideal of Inauthenticity." And while Condoleezza Rice's star probably shines brighter than that of the other disgraced Bushies, there's little good reason for that. She's a pretty despicable, craven human being, and should probably be on trial for war crimes (as should most of her former colleagues). Her approval ratings in the black community might exceed those of most conservatives, but aren't great. Overall, I don't think Romney, Rice and the Jarvis guy would help Whitman with swing or crossover voters. I don't think the Whitman ads attacking unions did much on that front, either.

In any case, the election starts shortly, and if Whitman loses, it's an important victory because of the money factor if nothing else. Money can definitely turn an election, but it can't buy it outright, especially if the candidate makes herself look bad all on her own.

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