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.


Lawmakers decry Arnold’s child-care veto

Lawmakers and child-care advocates held a news conference in Oakland this morning to decry Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Oct. 8 veto of $256 million in CalWORKs Stage 3 child care funds which would’ve provided services to working parents.

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, had called the cuts “unnecessary, misguided, cruel and shortsighted” in a news release issued yesterday. “It will force millions of parents to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for their children. I can think of no action more destructive to our economy that forcing low-income workers to give up their jobs. That’s why we must overturn the Governor’s veto.”

Among those also at the news conference were state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell; Renee Sutton Herzfeld, executive director of Community Child Care Council (4C’s) of Alameda County; and state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro.

Corbett later Tuesday issued a statement saying she’s “disappointed that the Governor used a single pen stroke to take away funds that working families need. He slammed closed the door of opportunity for 60,000 families statewide, including 81,000 children.”

“Government should help people, not hurt them,” she added. “We fought to make sure the most draconian cuts proposed by the Governor did not become reality. Unfortunately, once again, the children of this state were targeted.”

Here’s what Herzfeld had to say last week about the governor’s veto:

My colleague, Katy Murphy, penned an article last week further describing the child-care cuts’ impact here in the East Bay.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear this afternoon questioned why, despite today’s news conference and the veto’s impending effects, I’m bothering to report about a veto that happened weeks ago – “We’re having a presser tomorrow to overturn Prohibition. Hope you can make it.” – and referred questions to state Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer.

(Asked if he really wanted to be so cavalier about a veto that will impact so many families, McLear responded by e-mail, “Sounds like you’re writing from a particular point of view — interesting reporting. Just making sure u know this story is weeks old.”)

Palmer said the governor vetoed $963 million in general-fund spending, including this child-care money, because lawmakers had sent him a budget with only $375 million in reserves, which he deemed too small given the state’s fiscal instability.

“Each of these vetoes involved trade-offs and some tough choices, and this veto clearly will present challenges for many,” Palmer said, although the budget does still include $1.7 billion in child-care for low-income Californians through other programs. “I do not and would not mean to suggest each family, each individual affected by this will have a vacant slot waiting for them – there are waiting lists, there are backlogs.”

Palmer also provided a primer explaining exactly what the “Stage 3 funds” are:

CalWORKs Stage 1, an entitlement program, is administered by the Department of Social Services through county welfare departments and provides child care services to individuals when they enter the CalWORKs program. It is funded with a combination of non-Proposition 98 General Fund and TANF.

CalWORKs Stage 2, also an entitlement program, is administered by the Department of Education and provides child care services to families transitioning off of CalWORKs. Families are eligible to receive services for up to two years after they no longer receive a CalWORKs grant. Stage 2 is funded through a combination of Proposition 98 General Fund and federal funds.

CalWORKs Stage 3, a capped program (not an entitlement), is also administered by the Department of Education and provides child care services to families that have exhausted their two-year time limit in Stage 2. Families remain eligible for services provided that their children are younger than age 13 and they meet the income eligibility criteria. The budget provides federal funding for services through October 2010.


Report: Latinos unfairly targeted for pot, too

Hot on the heels of their report last week that African Americans are disproportionately arrested in simple marijuana possession cases, supporters of Proposition 19 – the marijuana legalization measure on next week’s ballot – rolled out a report today saying the same is true for Latinos.

The new report, prepared by the Drug Policy Alliance and the William C. Velasquez Institute, indicates that although U.S. government surveys consistently find that young Latinos use marijuana at lower rates than young whites, major California cities arrested and prosecuted Latinos for marijuana possession at double to nearly triple the rate of whites from 2006 to 2008.

In the City of Los Angeles, for example, police arrested Latinos for marijuana possession at twice the rate of whites, the report says In San Jose, Latinos are 31 percent of the population but 54 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession; police in San Jose arrested Latinos at 2.2 times the rate of whites. In Fremont – the only East Bay city included in the report – police arrested Latinos at 1.3 times the rate of whites; Latinos account for 14.6 percent of Fremont’s population but 26.7 percent of its marijuana arrests.

The report also says that in the twenty years from 1990 to 2009, the marijuana possession arrest rate of Latino teenagers in California more than tripled.

Prop. 19’s supporters will hold a news conference tomorrow morning at the Velasquez Institute’s Los Angeles headquarters to formally release the report and announce the measure’s endorsement by several police officers from the National Latino Officers Association.


NRSC launches attack ad against Boxer

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has launched its first independent expenditure attack ad against U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

Note that the narrator and all the sad-faced people in the ad are women – a key swing vote that Republican nominee Carly Fiorina is trying to woo. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released last week showed that among likely voters, women favor Boxer over Fiorina 48 percent to 32 percent with 16 percent undecided; the poll had a 3.5 percentage point margin of error.

This is part of a $3 million ad blitz the NRSC is mounting in the final days of the campaign; in all, it has dedicated about $5 million to the race. NRSC Press Secretary Amber Marchand said:

“Millionaire Senator Barbara Boxer has spent her entire career looking out for the best interests of one person: herself. Boxer’s partisan, ineffective work in Washington fighting for higher taxes and job killing policies haven’t helped the families, seniors, and job creators in California who are facing more than 12 percent unemployment today.”

Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer’s campaign manager, responded:

“Out of state independent expenditure campaigns have poured more than $12 million into this race, trying to mislead Californians and distorting Barbara Boxer’s record. The fact is that Barbara Boxer’s top priority is creating more California jobs and she voted for the biggest middle class tax cut in history, while Carly Fiorina laid off California workers and shipped jobs overseas. Fiorina didn’t care about California jobs then and she doesn’t care about them now.”


Soros gives $1 million to support Prop. 19

Billionaire financier George Soros gave $1 million today to support Proposition 19, the ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Soros – long a supporter of drug-reform efforts across the nation and here in California – reported his contribution this morning to the Secretary of State’s office, even as America woke up to his op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in support of legalization. In part, he wrote:

George SorosRegulating and taxing marijuana would simultaneously save taxpayers billions of dollars in enforcement and incarceration costs, while providing many billions of dollars in revenue annually. It also would reduce the crime, violence and corruption associated with drug markets, and the violations of civil liberties and human rights that occur when large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens are subject to arrest. Police could focus on serious crime instead.

The racial inequities that are part and parcel of marijuana enforcement policies cannot be ignored. African-Americans are no more likely than other Americans to use marijuana but they are three, five or even 10 times more likely-depending on the city-to be arrested for possessing marijuana. I agree with Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, when she says that being caught up in the criminal justice system does more harm to young people than marijuana itself. Giving millions of young Americans a permanent drug arrest record that may follow them for life serves no one’s interests.

Soros made his contribution not to the main Yes on 19 committee established by proponent Richard Lee of Oakland, but to a supporting committee – the Drug Policy Action Committee to Tax and Regulate Marijuana – Yes on Prop. 19 – established by the Drug Policy Alliance; Soros has been a major funder of the alliance and sits on its board.

Prop. 19 had been having a lot of trouble attracting significant funding, and only just rolled out its first television ad yesterday; $1 million will allow a much more intense media blitz in the final week before Election Day, but with so many people having already cast ballots by mail, its not clear whether this will counter the measure’s recent slump in the polls in enough time to make a difference.

UPDATE @ 12:30 P.M.: We’ve got fuller coverage of Soros’ big ante here.


Carly Fiorina is in the hospital

Deborah Bowker, chief of staff for the campaign of U.S. Senate Republican nominee Carly Fiorina, issued this statement this morning:

“Carly learned more than a year and a half ago that she, like millions of women, had breast cancer. After successfully battling cancer, she had reconstructive surgery this summer and remains cancer free today. However, this morning Carly came down with an infection associated with the reconstructive surgery and, as a result, she was admitted to the hospital to receive antibiotics to treat this infection. While this will impact her campaign schedule today, Carly is upbeat and her doctors expect her to make a quick and full recovery and be back out on the campaign trail soon. Carly is looking forward to getting back to her full campaign schedule and to defeating Barbara Boxer on November 2.”

Sidelined a week before Election Day, while still down in the latest polls – not good for Fiorina.

UPDATE @ 11:03 A.M.: “We wish Carly Fiorina a speedy recovery and hope she is able to return to her normal schedule soon,” Rose Kapolczynski, campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in an e-mailed statement.

UPDATE @ 12:05 P.M.: This just in from National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.:

“After learning that Carly was admitted to the hospital to treat an infection associated with her reconstructive surgery this summer, I reached out to her to wish her a full and speedy recovery.

“It was apparent during her triumphant battle against breast cancer that Carly is a fighter, and I have no doubt that she will be back on the campaign trail very soon; in the interim I hope Californians will join me and Sandy in keeping Carly in our thoughts and prayers.”

UPDATE @ 2:28 P.M.: Carole Uhlaner, a voter-behavior expert and associate professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine, said there’s not a lot of hard data on how voters react to a sick candidate, “but I think the answer is that it’s varied.”

Voters can begin to worry whether the candidate is well enough to serve a full term in the office he or she is seeking, she said; there’s anecdotal evidence of this throughout American history, notably in the lengths to which candidate President John F. Kennedy went to keep his Addison’s disease out of the public eye.

On the other hand, if the illness isn’t so serious, it can humanize the candidate and create sympathy among the electorate, Uhlaner said.

University of California, Berkeley Political Science Professor Jack Citrin agreed.

“I think what happens if a candidate’s health becomes an issue in the sense that it makes voters doubt they’ll be able to serve in office, then it will hurt them,” he said. “If it’s some kind of a minor ailment … I don’t think it has any effect one way or another.”