Is Meg Whitman putting herself down in California governor ad?

The latest polls have Meg Whitman trailing Jerry Brown by some 13 percentage points in the California governor's race. She may feel she needs to do something to shake things up.

Paul Sakuma/AP
Meg Whitman, Republican candidate for Calif. Governor, campaigned at a Vietnamese mall in San Jose, Calif., on Oct. 23.

Meg Whitman seems like she’s kind of dissing herself in one of her latest campaign ads. Why would the GOP California gubernatorial candidate be doing that, with the election only a few days away?

Well, Ms. Whitman is falling further behind Democratic opponent Jerry Brown, and she may feel she needs to do something to shake up the race. The latest polls have her trailing by some 13 percentage points.

Plus, there may be more to that ad than meets the eye.

RELATED: The 10 weirdest political ads of 2010

Let’s go the videotape, shall we?

The minute-long spot opens with a simple head shot of Whitman against a soft drapery background. She then acknowledges that many Golden State voters may not be happy about the governor race.

“I know many of you see this election as an unhappy choice between a longtime politician with no plan for the future and a billionaire with no government experience,” she says.

Not too many political candidates use the words “an unhappy choice” in any context other than a description of that rascal they’re running against. So in that sense, the Whitman ad might be groundbreaking. But is it really that big a step to acknowledge the obvious sentiments of not just California voters, but voters across America?

They’re angry and frustrated with the course of the country, according to polls. They’re not happy about much that’s connected with politics. Their vote next week thus might be more of a negative choice – let’s get the rascals out! – then a positive one.

Then, Whitman sets up this choice as one between a “longtime politician with no plan” (that’s Jerry Brown) and “a billionaire with no government experience” (that’s her).

Perhaps, as some commentators have said, this is a “lesser of two evils” approach. But which of those people would you rather be? Longtime politicians are generally less admired in the United States than billionaires. And while “no plan” is certainly pejorative, “no government experience” is not, for many voters.

No, what this ad may be is a clever attempt to reintroduce Whitman’s personal story to voters. In recent weeks, her image has been clouded by allegations that she knowingly employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper.

Thus after the slight downer of the opening, the ad pivots, and Whitman says, “Let me tell you my story.” The head shot fades, replaced by quick cuts of California scenery interspersed with old photos of Whitman as a young newlywed, of Whitman with her kids, and of Whitman as a top executive at eBay.

“The California dream came true for me in ways I never could have imagined,” says Whitman.

It isn’t politics as usual for candidates to run such image spots so close to a vote. That’s the kind of thing that usually gets heavier rotation earlier in the campaign, as candidates struggle to define themselves before their opponents do. But the housekeeper controversy appears to have hurt Whitman: In the latest Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll, a majority of respondents said that she did not handle the controversy over the former housekeeper’s immigration status well.

So Whitman may feel she has no choice but to spend more time and money reminding voters about her basic biography.

RELATED: The 10 weirdest political ads of 2010

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