Another disastrous moment for Whitman

It was a cheap trick by Matt Lauer, a pander move for the celebrity anchor of NBC’s Today Show.

Lauer asked both gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman, to pledge to remove their negative ads for the rest of the campaign, to the approval of the cheering crowd at the California Women’s Conference.

It was an unfair question, really, if you understand the reality of politics and the flow of this particular campaign. And it could be seen as an ambush on Whitman, who has run an exceptionally negative campaign and couldn’t be expected to relinquish the last hope she has, which is to somehow make Brown less appealing than her.

Brown got some flak initially when he said that negative ads are in the “eye of the beholder,” but he quickly rebounded by promising he would take off all his attack ads if Whitman responded in kind.

It was a stroke of genius. Brown did what he does best: he understood the audience and tapped into the predominent sentiment, putting Whitman on the defensive.

It was an easy play for Brown, who can afford to appear magnanimous with his expanding lead in the polls. But, he also knew that Whitman would never agree to such a deal. Even if Brown has all intentions of going for the jugular in the final days, he gave the impression he was ready to do the right thing.

“Let’s be clear,” Brown said. “If she takes her negative ads down … I’ll take mine off, no question. We’ll do it together.”

Whitman, on the other hand, was cornered into the very awkward moment she was hoping to draw Brown into.

Heading into the women’s conference, it was the Brown campaign that was worried stiff that Brown might slip up, pull off a faux pas or blunder into a gaffe. And Whitman’s team was hoping that she could make inroads with women voters. She started off with a soft and gauzy story about her mother’s influence (something about her volunteering for the Red Cross, going to New Guinea and telling her daughter about the consequences of “inaction when the need” is great, which sounds like it came out of a JFK flier circa 1960, and certainly doesn’t appear to have influenced Whitman on her voting habits in all those years).

It probably wasn’t going to make much of a difference, since Whitman otherwise reverted to talking points and subtle attack lines, drawing some groans from the audience.

But when Lauer’s question came, she flopped completely.

“Here’s what I’ll do,” she said. “I will take down any ads that could even remotely be construed as a personal attack. But I don’t think we can take down the ads that talk about where Governor Brown stands on the issues.”

Amid boos, she continued: “People need to know where I stand. And also Jerry Brown has been in politics for 40 years and there’s a long track record there. And I want to make sure that people really understand what’s going on here. And I’m not doing it in a mean-spirited way.”

Her exasperation showed right through her smile as she defended her ability to attack Brown on his record. And her discomfort was all too apparent when the groans and boos came from the crowd.

Brown’s team, sensing yet one more opportunity to exploit, quickly put out a last-minute fund-raising pitch with a short video capturing Whitman’s disastrous moment.

The Whitman campaign responded afterwards twice, in overdrive to show that Brown couldn’t possibly mean that he would end the negative attacks and that he truly is the cynical one in this campaign.

Sarah Pompei offered this lengthy comment initially, referring to a story I’d done in July foreshadowing Brown’s camapaign manager Steve Glazer’s vow to go after Whitman on character.

“Our campaign is going to continue to advertise Meg’s positive vision for California, while also running fair and truthful ads that highlight Jerry Brown’s long record on the issues. For more than six months, the Brown campaign and its allies in the public employee unions have been running a negative campaign against Meg Whitman. Most of their advertising attacks have focused on character assassination, avoiding any real discussion of the important issues that are of interest to Californians.

“In July, Jerry Brown’s campaign manager foreshadowed the strategy behind their attack-style campaign and declared a ‘war on character issues’. A declaration that came just months after Jerry Brown was videotaped behind closed doors making pleas to his special interest allies in Sacramento to ‘attack’ so he could be ‘the nice guy’. California’s voters deserve better.

“Jerry Brown can keep trying to fool the public that he’s ‘the nice guy’ but in reality he’s a cynical career politician running a cynical and negative campaign. The Brown campaign should pull its misleading character attacks on Meg Whitman and instead use its advertising to conduct an honest debate on the issues, something that has been missing from the Brown campaign for months.”

Later, Andrea Rivera, another Whitman spokeswoman, released a second statement:

“Just moments after Jerry Brown committed to taking down his negative advertisements, one of the 30 different special interest groups that are attacking Meg on Brown’s behalf launched a new attack. Jerry Brown has been running a hard-hitting character assault on California’s airwaves for months, and the idea that he and his union attack groups would stop now is absurd.”

But the Whitman responses miss the point. Whitman answered Lauer’s question as if she was the cynical politician intent on tearing down her opponent in order to win. Meanwhile, Brown, the lifelong pol who has had some eviscerating ads attacking Whitman’s character, appeared above the fray and ready to try a fresh approach to campaigning.

It was a skillful maneuver by the old pol, leaving the rookie challenger wondering what hit her.

Steven Harmon

  • I am a life long Democrat living in West Oakland. After I saw Jerry Brown use his Manorial office for personal gain over and over and over I had to become republican! Seriously the guy is dirty as the come. I even voted for him twice. Meg Please win. We cannot have the backroom deals anymore. Just look at what he left for Oakland. Renwick and worse…

    Michael Kilian Files Nepotism Complaint Against CEDA Top-Dog Antoinette Holloway-Renwick
    Michael Kilian, candidate for city auditor, reported to the Oakland Public Ethics Commission that Building Services Inspection Services Manager Antoinette Holloway-Renwick failed to report a close familial relationship with Arthur Young, who owns Arthur Young Debris Removal Service, the City’s number one blight abatement contractor.
    Kilian’s complaint alleges that this relationship costs the City millions of dollars a year because of the preferential treatment Young receives from Holloway-Renwick. Building Services records, as well as a deposition of Holloway-Renwick in an unrelated lawsuit, reveal that Holloway-Renwick was directly responsible for both contract and invoice approval for Arthur Young Debris Removal Service. The amount of those contracts exceeds $4 million since 2007.

    A 2007 audit of Public Works contract bidding process showed that Arthur Young Debris Removal Service was the number one Public Works contractor at that time.

    Courtney Ruby’s hiring-practices audit, dated October 21, 2009, does not include Holloway-Renwick’s relationship with Arthur Young.

    Holloway-Renwick retired several days after Kilian filed his complaint.


    Courtney Ruby fails to report preferential treatment given to a supporter and misses nepotism within CEDA

    Building Services records obtained yesterday show that in 2008 Ruby supporter Carlos Plazola, former Chief of Staff of Ignacio Delafuente, president of Terra Linda Development, and founder of the Oakland Builders’ Alliance, had a $10,000 fence erected at the City’s expense and paid for by Building Services from Fund 2415. The fence was erected by Arthur Young Debris Removal Service, the City’s #1 blight abatement contractor and, according to a complaint filed by Michael Kilian, a relation of former Buiding Services Inspection Services Manager Antoinette Holloway-Renwick.
    Building Services records reveal that Holloway-Renwick was directly responsible for both contract and invoice approval for Arthur Young Debris Removal Service.
    A 2007 audit of Public Works contract bidding process also showed that Arthur Young was the #1 Public Works contractor at that time.

    Courtney Ruby’s nepotism audit does not appear to have either detected or corrected the Renwick/Young nepotism.
    Renwick held the title of Inspection Services Manager from 2002 until October 15, when she appears to have retired five days after Kilian’s complaint was received by City staff.


  • Another look

    The technique and the description is quite masterful and an excellent display of the sort of ability that we may need in dealing with other politicians.
    Then again if it was John Burton instead of Meg Whitman he would have simply said that Brown could go F$%$^^ himself.

  • Montana

    What is the deal with the women GOP governor candidates and their crime propensity sons. Arizona’s Jan Brewer AKA Punky Brewster son (Ronald Brewer) is in jail for kidnapping and sexual assault and California’s Meg Whitman, AKA NutMeg son (Griffith Rutherford Harsh V) was accused of sexually assaulting a female classmate at Princeton University and arrested for breaking a woman’s ankle in California during a bar brawl, no jail time, sweet. I guess these two have Mommy issues.

    Nutmeg will lose as will Carly the tremendous failure of HP, don’t come crying to me if the GOP, keeps finding weak candidates, its like Mccain with the half-term Governor Palin all over again, what a joke that was, I mean comedian, talk show guest, commentator, now her new BS on the (of all places) The learning Channel, jack of all trades, master of none.

    June 14, 2010, The New York Times, Ebay paid out $200,000 because Nutmeg assaulted an employee, so it’s not the first time she has mistreated an employee.

    “The Whitman campaign issued a statement signed by Ms. Whitman that described Ms. Young Mi Kim as a “respected colleague and valuable asset to the company. In any high-pressure working environment, tensions can surface,” the statement said. ” Not quite a denial, what a fool she is.


    I must say one thing about Nutmeg is that she is a good parrot and the cracker she wants is CA:

  • John W

    They were discussing the campaign ads on a local radio show earlier, and one caller imitated the typical ad with the following line: “In 1974, Jerry Brown was caught picking his nose. Now, he wants to pick your wallet.”

  • Andrew

    FYI – it’s magnanimous, not magnaminous.

  • Cheap trick, Steve? I don’t see that at all. Pandering, sure, to voters’ better angels. But this could have just as easily backfired on Jerry Brown if he became indignant and talked about being outspent almost 7-to-1.

    No, instead, he tried to be classy in that occasionally awkward and usually not-purposefully-calculating Jerry Brown way, complimenting some of Meg Whitman’s “bio/message/issue” ads and pledging to remove his negative ones if she did the same.

    You seem to reach this conclusion yourself by the end of your post. But Matt Lauer seemed to be doing what good T.V. news anchors do: channeling voter annoyance at negative ads into something constructive to ask the candidates. Bravo to him.

  • John W

    Brown’s best line, in my opinion, was not about the negative ads. I liked his response to Meg talking about how great things used to be 30 years ago — when, as Brown pointed out, you know who was governor.

  • For Liberty