Meg Whitman lags behind Jerry Brown in Calif. governor race

Meg Whitman trails Jerry Brown in a new poll of likely California voters. The episode involving her illegal Mexican housekeeper is hurting her, especially among Latino voters.

Paul Sakuma/AP
Meg Whitman, Republican candidate for Calif. Governor, campaigns at a Vietnamese mall in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 23. Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, is lagging behind Democrat Jerry Brown in the most recent poll.

Is it all over for Meg Whitman?

Lots can happen in a week, but the GOP candidate for governor of California is trailing Democrat Jerry Brown by a substantial – and apparently growing – margin. And it looks like the flap over her illegal housekeeper is one major reason.

According to a USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll released Sunday, Mr. Brown now leads Ms. Whitman by 13 points among likely voters (52-39 percent). In last month’s poll, Brown was ahead by just five points – not much more than the margin of error.

Why the slippage, especially since the billionaire former eBay CEO has been able to outspend her opponent?

One big reason is found among Latinos in California, who make up 19 percent of all registered voters.

Democrats usually enjoy an advantage here, but that has become increasingly clear in this year’s governor’s race. Between September and October, Brown’s lead among this crucial demographic jumped from 19 percent to 36 percent.

Impact of Whitman's illegal housekeeper

The most recent USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll has 52 percent of all likely voters saying Whitman did a poor job handling revelations about her housekeeper Nicky Diaz Santillan. For many days last month, Whitman faced questions about when she and her husband might have known that the Mexican housekeeper they hired for years was in the United States illegally.

“Voters are making a judgment about Whitman’s character and how she handled a crisis,” says USC political scientist Darry Sragow, interim director of the USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Apparently, the housekeeper episode, plus other statements Whitman has made about immigration, have hurt her status among Latinos – where her unfavorability rating has jumped from 34 percent to 52 percent in the most recent poll.

“Whitman’s declining favor with Latino voters might be the result of several recent moments, not only the incident involving her former housekeeper, but also her statements during the debate at Fresno State, broadcast in Spanish through Univision," said Manuel Pastor, USC professor of American Studies and Ethnicity. “A Fresno State student who is in the country illegally asked both candidates about the Dream Act, legislation to allow undocumented youth to gain citizenship in return for attending college or entering the military. Whitman seemed to indicate that she thought the student was taking the place of a citizen, and that may not have played well with Latino voters who were listening to the debate.”

Democrat Barbara Boxer ahead too

In California’s other main statewide race – for US Senator – three-term incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer holds an eight-point lead (50-42 among likely voters) over GOP challenger Carly Fiorina.

But that race is far from over. Both candidates have high unfavorability ratings – 50 percent for Boxer, 43 percent for Fiorina.

“Any Republican running in California is facing an uphill battle. It’s hard for Republicans to win in California state-wide races, and it’s even more difficult for conservative Republicans in a state where nearly half of voters are registered as Democrats,” said Jane Junn, research director of the USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll and USC professor of political science.

As with all elections this volatile political season, voter turnout will be key. In California, according to this new poll, the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats appears to be closing.

So far, it seems, Whitman’s huge campaign advertising war chest is not as effective as she would have liked – a situation also true for other Republicans pouring large amounts of personal funds into their races.

Money can't buy you love

Together, Whitman, Rick Scott running for governor in Florida, and US Senate candidate Linda McMahon in Connecticut have spent nearly a quarter-billion dollars of their own money. Whitman's is the most expensive self-funded campaign in history.

Yet, none of the three are ahead in the polls, reports Alexander Burns of

Writes Burns:

“Now, Whitman, McMahon and Scott all find themselves on the edge of a general election vote that could effectively vaporize all their spending.
“In part, strategists say, that’s because no amount of campaign spending can compensate for flawed candidates: McMahon’s background in professional wrestling has likely crippled her appeal with many of the female, suburban and independent voters who make up Connecticut’s swing vote.
“Whitman’s problem could be more basic: She’s a Republican in a very Democratic state.
“Despite Florida’s rightward lean this year, Scott has been unable to break away from [Alex] Sink as the Democrat has hammered him on the air over his tenure at the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, which paid $1.7 billion in fines for Medicare fraud.”

The lesson: Money may buy you a lot of TV time. But it won't necessarily buy you voter love.

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