Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Jun 10

Quick “takes” on what Tuesday’s California primary election might mean

Ogilvy PR in California has two veteran politicos on their roster who provide advice and counsel to Ogilvy clients – and keep a hand in the always interesting world of California politics.  Mindy Fletcher was a press advisor to George Bush II and Maggie Linden was a communications consultant to three Democratic California Assembly Speakers and a US Senator.   Following are their quick “takes” on what Tuesday’s California primary election might mean and a look at what’s to come.

A View of the Election from Maggie’s Perspective:

The results are now in and they put California right back in the political spotlight. We’re never very far from it – with movie stars and initiative wars competing for national attention – but both CNN and NPR are calling California’s races for U.S. Senate (Boxer vs. Fiorina) and Governor (Browns vs. Whitman) key battleground races to watch in November.

And as Dan Morain pointed out in Today’s Sacramento Bee – registration numbers won’t tell the entire story this year in California. Although Republican now can only claim about 31% of registered voters – the increasing numbers of Decline-to-State voters – and the disenchantment of the general electorate to all things that look “political and incumbent” mean that the Democratic registration advantage can not be taken as a solid indication of victory this year.

Boxer vs. Fiorina:

Carly Fiorina became the darling of the new right during the course of the primary election. While she started out a moderate – she moved into the far-right fringe in the final weeks, was endorsed by Sarah Palin who made nearly one million robo calls on her behalf, and championed the Arizona anti-immigration law. She also took and was proud of taking nearly three-quarters of a million dollars from anti-choice national money – and California has not elected an anti-choice candidate in decades. However, Barbara Boxer has been an unwavering liberal and has never really faced a tough or well-funded challenger. So while Carly looks very “right” right now, Boxer will have to run to the middle also. In fact she has already started that by emphasizing jobs, jobs, jobs in all of her post-election comments.

To be elected Fiorina also must move away from her right wing primary stances. Her election night speech was well done, and she’s already begun to move to the center. She is a cancer survivor; she is a successful corporate CEO; and she isn’t one of the Washington DC incumbents Together with Whitman they will have a strong appeal to women and to disenchanted voters. There is more at stake here than just the Ca Senate seat. The US Senate is a critical battleground for Obama and the national Democratic agenda and the eyes of the nation will be on Boxer/Fiorina. This race will be close.

Brown vs. Whitman:

One Dem wag quipped this morning that since Meg Whitman spent about $77 dollars per voter – which is what an I-Pod currently costs on E-Bay – maybe her slogan can be “An I-pod in every pot!.”…but I digress…This is a very tough contest for the Democrats. Meg has the ability to go on TV and Radio right now and stay on through November 9th. No amount of Dem money will match her, even as the unions are up on TV today. Meg has an anti-incumbent advantage – and she’s a woman running with another woman (Wow the Reps moved into this century(!)

But never underestimate the power of Jerry Brown to re-invent himself. He did have the best election night line of the night: “It takes more to govern California than the ‘rich and the restless.’” And he will be indefatigable in this race, even though he won’t have the funds to match Whitman.

On our side, labor unions, teachers and others will have to get organized, energized and become believers – with both shoe leather and money to bring this one home.

Yet to be answered for me is whether either of the top ticket pairs can infuse any real “excitement” with the general voting public into this race. While special interests will surely notice: e.g. business, labor unions, women’s groups – the turnout yesterday was miserable (less than 30%) and nowhere were there screaming crowds – in any headquarters or hotels election night. In order to get the kind of campaign Dems need someone will have to fire us up!

In addition, this electorate was remarkably different from the Obama 2008 electorate. It was white, it was old (er) and it was conservative. Both Republican candidates embraced tough new immigration reform, which, in another year might hurt them with California’s large Latino population – but it remains to be seen whether Latinos will be motivated by that and actually come out to the polls. Similarly, younger voters and African American voters, captivated by Obama have little to relate to in either Whitman or Brown – indeed Jerry’s service as Governor took place before the younger voters were born. Low turnout races sometimes spell trouble for Democrats.

Down ballot races could prove to be semi-interesting because:

1. Coat-tails” don’t often emerge in California. Voters are used to voting for different statewide candidates of different parties. Eight years ago under the Davis re-election effort Dems nearly swept the floor; but that is not the main happening in California. We are very used to having both a Republican Governor and a Dem Lt.Governor or the other way around. But with two women in the race at the top of the Rep ticket and a woman at the top of the Dem ticket, it will be interesting to see how/if they campaign together and what that means.

2. Liberal SF will be an issue. Our Lt Governor candidate: Mayor Gavin Newsome gained statewide attention during the Prop 8 effort and he is joined by our Attorney General Candidate San Francisco DA Kamala Harris. Will the Reps make a big deal of SF liberals – I’d guess yes.

3. Only a few legislative battles remain and both houses will remain firmly in the hands of the Democrats – so while some may be hard fought, I don’t see much interesting on that front.

A few final comments of note:

  • Meg Whitman only mentioned a few people last night to thank for her victory: Nathan Fletcher was one of them – good on ya, Mindy and Nathan!
  • California voters once again proved themselves VERY SMART last night. It really wasn’t a long night. Few races held much drama. But if you take a close look, the rejection of both Prop 16 and 17 once again proves California voters do and can pay attention. They can figure it out – even when millions of dollars are spent by special interests to try and sway them. They do listen to editorial boards and to personal connections, either on the phone or at the door, and oft times say NO to big money and big corporations. PG&E and Mercury Insurance spent millions in failed efforts because the public saw through them. In most cases the voters here do get it right (Prop 8 notwithstanding – but we’ll get that right soon.) This is some comfort to those of us (Dems) who will be fighting the enormous war chests of Whitman and Fiorina as the nation watches.

It will be a long summer and a longer fall…but I’m very excited to see it unfold.

A View of the Election from Mindy’s Perspective:

As always California offers colorful and interesting storylines that make the rest of the county scratch their head and watch in wonder. I agree with Maggie that this first test of the election season shows that Californians on the whole are pretty smart and despite the lengthy, confusing and wordy ballot, they manage to figure things out.

An important thing to remember about the primary yesterday was that the turnout was heavy on the Republican side because of more hotly contested races on our side. I think the effect of that was probably more visible in some of the lower profile local races and initiatives.

But let’s get to the juicy stuff.

My party last night nominated 2 women, a black (Damon Dunn for Secy of State) and a Latino (Abel Maldonado for Lt. Gov) for the statewide ticket. The two women were history making unto themselves, but the four of them together could actually make history in November. Maggie pointed out that we usually don’t have coattails in California. However, this year could be different – here’s why

  • Meg Whitman, unlike her predecessor, actually understands the value of bringing in a team and not winning a solo victory in November. Watch for her to campaign vigorously for the ticket, especially Tony Strickland (who narrowly lost this same race 4 years ago) who is running again for the little-known, but very important Controller’s seat. The current Controller has been a thorn in the current Gov’s side the last 4 years. Meg knows she needs friends to get done what she wants to get done.
  • The anti-establishment climate in the country will be felt in California. It won’t be in Assembly and Senate races because they are drawn so one-sided it doesn’t matter what climate is out there. It will be felt in congressional races. It could be felt in other state races where the right issues are in play. Two of Meg’s key messages – jobs and spending – are very much a part of the tea party anger and could serve her and the rest of the ticket well in November. Best part – the Dems will be hard pressed to morph her into a crazy tea party radical. She just isn’t.
  • Carly Fiorina understands how to cripple Barbara Boxer and has a high enough profile for it to matter.

What I am most excited about from last night’s election has nothing to do with the 2010 elections, but could change the face of California politics. Open Primary.

Voters passed this initiative that will yield more candidates focused on getting things done and fewer candidates focused on setting themselves up for the next election down the road (a terrible byproduct of term limits). Open primary will be combined with the new redistricting process where involved citizens (that the Ogilvy team helped the State Auditor recruit earlier this year) will be drawing the legislative lines instead of the legislators who run for the seats.

My party opposed this and with its vantage point of staring a Democrat supermajority in the face I am not sure why they think the current system is such a good thing. Maggie’s party opposed it to. Another reason why my party should have embraced it. I will leave it to you to surmise the wisdom of an electorate that passed something so strongly opposed by both party establishment…..

These two changes could create a legislature where common sense has a chance and getting things done trumps getting a good headline. Like I said – this could change the face of politics in California for years to come.

Concluding thought:

So now we head into the usual antics of the general election in California. Lots of union dollars spent on ads. Lots of Republicans bemoaning the union dollars. Lots of my neighbors asking me if I could tell X candidate to please stop making those phone calls to their house. And many events and happenings sure to make news that we couldn’t even dream up as we sit here today.

It will be a wild ride as usual. But I look forward to it and to joining Maggie along the way to keep you updated and entertained.





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