Money in the bank and foot in the mouth

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October 26, 2010

California and Florida are two of America's costliest gubernatorial races. Now, both outcomes may be down to poorly chosen words

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

SACRAMENTO, California and TAMPA, Florida: Taking over the helm of one of America's most populous state's is an expensive pursuit. Just ask the candidates in California and Florida. With 55 and 27 electoral votes, respectively, the two states are among the biggest prizes in this year's gubernatorial elecrtions. California, is, in fact, number one. Florida is number four on the electoral break down, behind Texas and its 34 votes and 31-vote strong New York.

The two states have some interesting similarities. Heavily populated coastal states with multiple metropolitan areas, California and Florida remain as toss-ups or barely leaning races with many race trackers. Whether this is due to huge amounts of money being spent and keeping the races neck-and-neck or if close polls are in spite of the eye-watering sums being spent is itself a hot topic.

In both states, the Republicans are running a staggeringly wealthy political newcomer – California's Meg Whitman and Florida's Rick Scott – against a Democratic seasoned politician. Alex Sink, CFO for the state of Florida, was in the private sector for much of her professional life but has lately become well known to voter's as a politico. Jerry Brown can fairly be said to have spent his life in California politics; he has run for nearly every office in the state, not to mention his failed 1976 and 1992 attempts at the Presidency. He's even held the governor's office before, from 1975 to 1983.

And, despite no shortage of interest groups who want more women in high office, the latest polling shows both races going to the boys.

Despite the U.S. Government leveling a $1.7 billion fine against the conglomerate of hospitals he built, and despite being forced out of the company as part of an agreement to avoid criminal charges, Rick Scott is not hurting for cash to fund his political ambitions. As soon as he relocated from Dallas to Naples, Florida, Scott began acquiring companies again; he hadn't lost his business savvy in the move. To date, Scott, whose net worth is pegged at at least $218 million, has transferred $60 million to his campaign accounts.[1][2]

Third party groups and the Democratic Governor's Association haven channeled impressive sums into the battle and it's been a race-watcher's delight, with the lead switching back and forth regularly since the spring. In Real Clear Politics average of polls, neither candidate has held much of a lead. They each briefly seen double digit highs in early June (Scott was up by 10) and early August (Sink was ahead by 16 for a matter of days the next eave of polls cut her lead by a factor of four.[3]

Still, the Republican is leading for now and Sink's anxiety over her shrinking window to affect a turnaround manifested itself in an October 25th debate. Co-hosted by CBS and the St. Petersburg Times, who sponsor Politifact, the debate included a ban on all outside materials and props. Both candidates signed an agreement testifying to this. But, during the break, Alex Sink's make-up artist showed her a text message from a campaign ad. The two sentence message gave Sink a strategy tip for deflecting attacks from Risk Scott. She read the message and did not notify debate moderators she had received outside help.

When the debate resumed, it was Scott who called her on it. At the debate's conclusion, Sink fired her aide and commented that, “While he told me it was out of anger with Rick Scott's repeated distortion of facts, it was a foolish thing to do. It violated a debate agreement and I immediately removed him from the campaign."[4] Despite Sink's campaign declining to name the staffer, his identity has been confirmed as Brian May, who also signed an agreement to abide by the debate's rules against outside help or communicating with the candidate during the debate.[5]

While polls are already forthcoming, the final round before Election Day should reflect how badly Sink's violation of the rules might hurt her.

CNN' 'October 25th Florida Gubernatorial Debate'

On America's other coast, another candidate could see her already struggling race collapse under the single action of moment.

Meg Whitman, a billionaire and the 4th wealthiest woman in California, publicly committed to spending up to $150 million of her personal fortune when she entered the race. In September, her personal donations hit $119 million, breaking the previous record for the most money a candidate has ever committed to race in America, formerly held by fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his $109 million quest to be New York's mayor. However, that fall, the Big Apple saw a remarkably apathetic electorate sent only 1.2 million voters out. Bloomberg won the lowest margin in a New York mayoral contest since 1917, the year suffrage came to the Empire State.

What Bloomberg spent to lead a single city worked out to a little over $90 for every vote he captured. Whitman's race is much less expensive when one considers the sheer size of the Golden State. Voter registration is up markedly in California and, when registration for the primaries closed in June, 17 million of the state's 23.5 eligible adults were on the rolls.[6] Using those numbers, Whitman's mighty bankroll has spent $6.00 to reach each voter, a relative bargain.

In fact, when the amount spent in a race is parceled out to the potential voting pool in a race, then Connecticut Senate hopeful Linda McMahon, who has spent $42 million from her own pockets trying to win over the small new England state and its 2 million voters, has already more than tripled Whitman's spending at nearly $21 per voter.[7][8]

Whitman moved another chunk of her personal wealth into her campaign's coffers on October 13th. The $20 million donation put her total financial commitment at $141.5 million, nearly exceeding even her own statement about what she was willing to splash out.[9]

Outspending opponent Jerry Brown ten-to-one may have, ironically, resulted in oversaturated campaign environment, with voters turned off by the unavoidable barrage of Whitman campaign messages. Brown has relied on union and interest groups favorable to him in order to push attacks on Whitman over the summer and held off on major advertising buys until the end of the race. He began October with a reported $22.6 million in cash-on-hand.[10]

Supporting the idea that Brown's strategy of leaving negative ads to third parties and holding back on a media blitz has worked, recent polls have shown him pulling ahead of his Republican opponent. Beginning with a former housekeeper who alleged that Whitman mistreated her and knew she was in the country illegally, the public mood has been unforgiving of Meg's gaffes. A voicemail where Jerry Brown was recorded conversing with staff after he thought he had hung up became public and broadcast an unidentified voice referring to Whitman as a “whore.” Despite the obvious lack of Brown disagreeing with slur, the incident is already largely passed.

Around the same time, news came out that Brown had allegedly violated sanctions against Cuba's Marxist regime and spent a taxpayer funded trip cozying up to Fidel Castro. However, neither story stuck the way Whitman's former housekeeper and her deftly managed public relations campaign, led by megawatt attorney Gloria Allred, did. A raft of stories about the supposed loutish undergraduate behavior of Whitman's two sons then hit, painting highly unflattering pictures of the young men.

It's all added up. Whitman hasn't led in Real Clear Politics's average of polls since October 13, when Wilson Research Strategies put her ahead by a single point.[11] She hasn't held a sizeable lead since early September and the last several polls, from Rasmussen, Survey USA, Public Policy Polling, the L.A. Times, and Suffolk University all tip Brown to win.[12] With the Election Day countdown now measured in hours, RCP gives Brown a 7.4 lead, narrowly outside the margin of error on almost any individual poll.

And now, she may be subjected to the final insult of losing by her own words. Meg Whitman was fresh out of graduate school and newly married when her husband, today a successful neurosurgeon at Stanford, accepted a residency at the prestigious university. The young couple moved to California and Meg took a job with Bain, the company that would launch her on a string of lucrative and successful executive positions. In what was intended to harken back to halycon days when California's economy was humming along, she spoke glowingly of the opportunity and possibility 30 years ago. Instead, Brown seized upon that single sentence and made an ad using Whitman's own footage and reminding voters of just who was governing the state three decades ago.[13]

Jerry Brown for Governor' 'Why I Came to California' ad.


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