The $100 million Meg Whitman has spent so far to win the California Governor’s seat may have been better spent handing out Jamba Juice gift cards to all Californians of voting age. Although probably illegal, this campaign trick would have at least left a better taste in voters’ mouths than the barrage of negative, misleading TV ads Whitman has aired against both Steve Poizner, her Republican opponent in the June primary, and her current Democratic rival, Jerry Brown-the latter of whom has spent only a fraction of Whitman’s advertising budget to persuade voters to like him less.
Having a positive vibe about eBay (really, who doesn’t like to bid on junk they don’t need?) and a vague feeling of admiration for her breaking into the old CEO boys’ club, I was initially pre-disposed to like Meg Whitman, even though she was a Republican. Then she began running her TV commercials, and it turned out to know Meg was not to love her. Whitman came off as a heartless Tin Man when she suggested laying off 40,000 California state workers to balance the budget, as if they were just annoying numbers on a spreadsheet and not real people with families to support and bills to pay.
She Can’t Hide Her Lyin’ Eyes
More recently, Whitman insisted on running a TV commercial that used clips from a videotape of former President Bill Clinton from 1992 in which Clinton-using CNN as his source-accused Jerry Brown of raising taxes when he was governor of California. Only the story wasn’t true. When even the CNN reporter upon whose news report Clinton based his attack publicly admitted he had used errant data in his research – and that taxes had actually gone down during Brown’s term – Whitman did not pull her ad. Instead, she kept running a TV commercial that not only she knew contained false information, so did everyone else in California. Instead of scoring points, Whitman gave the Brown campaign a perfect opportunity to depict her as a political Pinocchio, superimposing on Meg Whitman’s face the nose of Pinocchio, which grew longer and longer with each lie she told.
To her credit, Whitman does not try to look like a Barbie doll candidate, obviously eschewing the Botox and $400 haircuts enjoyed by most women in her circle. But the critical part of her image that Whitman has ignored is that of a woman who cares about the people in California who do not golf, drive BMWs or summer in La Jolla. Voters can sense whether a candidate is warm and compassionate, invisible qualities that cannot be created by even the most expensive cosmetics or flattering camera angle.
Poll Numbers Don’t Lie
Being a numbers cruncher, it is surprising that Meg Whitman has not fired her campaign consultants for the negative return she has received on her advertising investment. According to the most recent Field Poll published in the Sacramento Bee, Whitman has almost doubled the number of likely voters in California who have an unfavorable impression of her, climbing from 27 per cent in March to 45 per cent in September. If this trend continues, Whitman could even get more than half the voters in California to dislike her by Election Day, especially if she keeps spending more money on TV ads.
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William Bradley, “Bill Clinton Hearts Jerry Brown,” The Huffington Post
Robert Dorrell, “Whitman Brown Tied in Latest Field Poll” The Sacramento Bee