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How Meg Whitman dropped 10 points behind Jerry Brown

Meg Whitman, the Republican nominee for California governor, has been hurt by an undocumented housekeeper scandal, political inexperience, and perhaps even her own attack ads.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / October 28, 2010

California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman speaks to invited guests at a campaign stop Wednesday in San Diego.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP


Los Angeles

With five days until the election, a California Field poll shows Republican Meg Whitman trailing Democrat Jerry Brown by 10 points in the race for governor. Last month the same poll showed the two in a virtual tie.

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How did that happen?

In the end, say analysts, heavy campaign spending – $142 million of her own money at last count – was unable to overcome Ms. Whitman's political inexperience and the news that she employed an undocumented housekeeper for nearly a decade.

Californians already tried an outsider with millions of his own money – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – and are not happy with the outcome. Now, in a time of trouble, it seems a state that already leans Democratic is searching for a known quantity in Mr. Brown, who has been California's governor before.

Whitman’s money, trumpeted early on as a difference-maker in the race, might have even contributed to negative opinions of her, says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.

She has pummeled California airwaves for months with ads painting Brown’s 40-year career in California politics as a failure. But the ads appear not to have had the desired effect.

When Whitman began her first major advertising blitz in March, 40 percent of state voters had a favorable view of her and 27 percent viewed her negatively. Now, her unfavorable ratings have nearly doubled to 51 percent, the Field poll found.

“Her negatives continued to grow as people were reminded day after day that Whitman was spending more time trashing Jerry Brown than laying out her own plans for the state’s future,” says Ms. O’Connor. “This state is really hurting, and people wanted to know what her specific vision was.... They feel she never told them.”

These problems were exacerbated by the revelations about Whitman's housekeeper, whom she subsequently fired. Attorney Gloria Allred, who represented the housekeeper, made allegations of abuse and disrespect.

“To hear that this immigrant worker endured years of possible abuse at the hands of someone who wants to be a leader for the state was definitely a turnoff for Latinos who, although not uniformly, largely see the issue of immigration as a moral issue,” says Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.