Why Whitman and Brown, tied in California, won't talk issues
With the race for California governor in a virtual tie, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown seem more interested in bashing each other than fixing the state's problems, analysts say.
Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown are effectively tied in the race for California governor, according to the latest Field Poll. But what is defining the race at the moment, political analysts say, is both candidates' refusal to speak about what they would do in office.Skip to next paragraph
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“While tens of millions of dollars are being spent on their duel, with even heavier expenditures looming, virtually none of their campaign effluent is telling us what either would do as governor six months hence,” writes the leading political columnist in the state, Dan Walters, in the Sacramento Bee.
“So far, it's been a political version of a squabble between two nursery schoolers over who touched the other first. Whitman's TV ads portray Brown as an over-the-hill hippie who failed in his first stint as governor while he and his surrogates picture her as a heartless and clueless businesswoman trying to buy the election.”
Analysts agree the political back-and-forth is making voters angry in a state looking for answers to its struggling economy, 12.5 percent unemployment, unbalanced state budget, failing public education system, crumbling highways, and looming water crisis.
“Every poll says people want them to talk about issues that matter to them,” says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University. “Part of it is thirty-second-soundbite-driven politics. Part of it is not wanting to say anything that will offend a subgroup. The Field poll is a perfectly good reason to launch a discussion on changing the political narrative.”
But that discussion to change the political narrative is unlikely to happen, say most analysts. The strategy seems to be “get elected first, then we’ll talk.”
“Both Brown and Whitman will be as non-committal as possible so that they don’t alienate their bases or undecided voters. Their first priority is to get elected; then they will worry about governing,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. The candidates' unwillingness to commit is also a tactic that gives them a wider latitude to present solutions after the election, he says.
Whitman, who has never run for political office, spent $90 million of her own money to defeat state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the June primary. Even though her spending has not yet vaulted her into the lead for the general election in November, the Field analysis shows that a very large proportion (82 percent) of the state’s likely voters have now formed an initial opinion of her.