Meg Whitman welcomed Jerry Brown to the governor’s race Tuesday with a no-holds-barred challenge to the attorney general and a trio of ready-to-go e-mail hit pieces proving that, yes indeed, she has spent plenty of cash on opposition research.
Of course, just because your guys dig something up out of the newspaper archives doesn’t mean you actually have to use it. And it always pays to think like your opponent before you fire your guns.
Take, for example, the first in what’s likely to be a series of slams with the standing headline “Yep, Jerry Brown Said It …” In this initial offering, the Whitman campaign excitedly reports that “In 1974, Brown Said Being in Politics Only a Few Years is a ‘Big Advantage.’”
Sure enough, the L.A. Times piece has Brown saying that having spent only a few years in Sacramento is an advantage. But you might want to think twice about using that quote when you’re a candidate with zero years of political experience, in Sacramento or anywhere else.
Similarly, another piece points out examples of “Brown’s Financial Failures Part 1.” In it, Team Whitman charges that Brown has a long history of supporting large pay raises, including “a pay raise in 2007 that made his salary (as California’s attorney general) $184,000.”
In the stones and glass houses category, Whitman’s people might have noticed that Fortune magazine reported that their boss made $11.9 million as CEO of eBay in 2007, making Brown look positively poverty stricken as California’s top law enforcement officer.
Then there’s the charge that Brown “unsuccessfully led the opposition to Proposition 13, calling it ‘crazy,’ ‘a fraud’ and a ‘Rip-Off.”
That’s true enough as far as it goes but, as is typically the case in political advertising, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Brown pushed so hard to implement Prop. 13 after the June 1978 election that Howard Jarvis, the man behind the measure, later said that he cast his first-ever non-Republican vote for Jerry Brown’s re-election in November of that year.
Not that Whitman and Steve Poizner, the other candidate in the GOP race for governor, won’t have plenty of ammunition to use against Brown. One of the downsides of spending 40 or so years in politics is that the former governor/secretary of state/attorney general/Oakland mayor/state Democratic party chief/presidential candidate has left his fingerprints on just about every issue in California – and the U.S. – during that time and Whitman’s people are undoubtedly doing their CSI best to study each and every one.
You don’t have to be a high-priced consultant to know that Poizner and Whitman will go after the 71-year-old Brown as the aging voice of a big-spending liberal past who doesn’t have what it takes to lead the state in the 21st century.
Brown, for his part, made it clear what his campaign theme is going to be when he made his official announcement Tuesday.
“Our state is in serious trouble and the next governor must have the preparation, the knowledge and the know-how to get California working again,” he said. The answer to the state’s problems “is not a scripted plan cooked up by consultants or mere ambition to be governor.”
Whitman described Brown as someone “who has had a 40-year career in politics which has resulted in a trail of failed experiments, undelivered promises, big government spending and failed promises.”
Look forward to Whitman spending plenty on the political Wayback Machine to give voters a not-particularly-impartial view of California in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
But the GOP hopefuls have to be careful not to chortle too loudly at the chance to savage Brown and his record. Poizner, for example, welcomed Brown into the race with a statement that didn’t even mention the Democrat by name.
“This election will be about the future of California, not the past,” he said. “Our state needs bold, new, conservative solutions that will jumpstart our economy and bring jobs back to California.”
That “conservative solutions” line is a pretty good one in a GOP primary, but it’s a bit more problematic in a general election in a state where Barack Obama took 61 percent of the vote in 2008.
Whitman’s people also are telling anyone who will listen that Brown hasn’t faced a tough race since the 1980s and will be lost in the all-attack, all the time world of a modern campaign.
Fact is, though, Brown’s won three elections since 1999, including the statewide race for attorney general. That’s three more political races than Whitman has ever run in, much less won.
And while Whitman would like to get an early start on a fall campaign against Brown, Poizner’s first group of ads show he’s willing to draw some blood.
“California’s in crisis,” the announcer intones in Poizner’s ad. “And what’s liberal Meg Whitman’s weak response? False negative attacks on Republican Steve Poizner’s conservative solutions.”
It’s going to be a fun run to the June primary.
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.