California politics starts early. The campaigns in this state were underway long before the traditional Labor Day launch of the fall campaign season. Except for Jerry Brown, who only in the past week has started acting like a candidate for governor of the most populous state in the nation.
And that’s not a mistake.
Here’s how I’m seeing things shape up at what is more accurately described as a midpoint in the campaign season:
Jerry Brown’s starting to hit back. The once and maybe future governor has much of the state’s political class mystified; with Meg Whitman blanketing the airwaves, promoting herself and whacking away at him, why has he waited so long to fight back? Actually, it’s a calculated strategy, Jerry’s version of the old Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope. He knew he couldn’t match Whitman blow for blow and he also suspected that at a certain point, she’d start to punch herself out. It’s been working: after spending more than $100 million, Whitman hasn’t cracked 45 percent in the polls. And some polls now show that the more people view her ads, the less they like her.
So now Jerry Brown appears a 72-year-old career politician who’s going to look like a fresh face. And all he has to do is knock her back a little and the race is his.
Barbara Boxer’s nailed Carly Fiorina where she’s most vulnerable. Boxer’s got incumbency trouble that is, everyone’s sick of incumbents. But she has an opponent who has something even worse a record of sending jobs offshore while collecting $100 million for herself. Boxer hammered that point home in the first and only Senate debate and I can see that clip appearing in TV ads all fall.
And I hate to say it, but those two campaigns are going to eat up all the statewide campaign oxygen between now and November. Between those four candidates, we’ll see upwards of $120 million in TV spending and the rest of the campaigns probably won’t even be able to buy much time in major markets.
That could be good for Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris. They’re Democrats in a state where Democrats way outnumber Republicans, and Republicans only win when they make a strong case that the Democrat sucks. Whitman can try to do that, and so can Fiorina, but even if they had the money, I don’t see Abel Maldonado or Steve Cooley, the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, getting their messages heard in the cacophony that will be the top of the ticket.
So maybe Whitman is not only hurting herself with her excessive spending. Maybe she’s hurting the rest of the party, too. Not that she cares.