Even as many of us deplore the hard cold cash which is dominating the end-game of this election cycle, signs are growing that the most conspicuous vote-buyer, Republican Meg Whitman, is about to lose her $180 million (give or take ten million or so; the final numbers aren’t in) gamble to become governor of California.
Already losing ground in virtually every recent poll, Whitman had a fine opportunity to score some points in an appearance with Jerry Brown and incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger at the annual California Women’s Conference, an nonpartisan event attended by about 14,000 women. As a female running as a competent outsider, you’d figure this would be a good venue for Whitman; she could have perhaps even resuscitated the “Whoregate” brouhaha to instill some sisterly solidarity in the audience.
Instead, with an assist from moderator Matt Lauer, Whitman floundered in the quasi-debate, and got herself heavily booed. Lauer ambushed both candidates by proposing that they agree to pull all negative ads between now and Election Day (a rather odd idea since the final ads are already booked; Lauer also asked the candidates to talk their allies into pulling “independent” negative ads, which would be, er, illegal), which Brown (knowing it wasn’t going to happen) agreed to and eMeg resisted in a time-draining series of defensive statements. Here’s how Calbuzz sardonically summarized the event:
In a remarkable few moments of unscripted political theater, eMeg turned cheers to jeers at the California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, as she fumbled and stumbled through an excruciatingly awkward exchange about TV attack ads with Democratic rival Jerry Brown and NBC’s Matt Lauer, who moderated the unusual session, which also included outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As on two previous occasions when she was forced to react in real time outside the accustomed comfort of her campaign cocoon – her famously awful 2009 press conference when she tried to defend her decades-long failure to vote and the presser she convened a few weeks ago to answer questions about employing an undocumented housekeeper for nine years – eMeg on Tuesday displayed a rare combination of political tone deafness and an utter inability to think on her feet.
By the time the fireworks ended, Whitman had not only failed to take advantage of a chance to boost her sagging standing among women voters, a week before the Nov. 2 election, but also succeeded in making her male opponent look good.
In the process, she managed to embarrass herself with a thoroughly dopey performance before the state’s political press corps and most of the TV cameras south of the Tehachapis, making major campaign news out of what should have been a feel-good appearance at a touchy-feely event.
So with all that record-breaking money, the most favorable political environment since at least 1994, and an opponent in an anti-incumbent year who was first elected to statewide office 40 years ago, Whitman appears to be losing this contest the old-fashioned way: poor campaigning. Just goes to show that politicians do have some control over their electoral fate, even if it’s primarily at the margins.