Saturday, November 13, 2010

California bucks national political trend

California bucks national political trend
Matthew Garrahan in Los Angeles
November 3 2010

California lived up to its reputation for bucking national political trends when its voters rejected Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, two former Silicon Valley chief executives who broke campaign spending records, halting Republican gains that had swept across the rest of the US.

Ms Whitman, former chief executive of Ebay, spent more than $140m of her own money and $160m in total on her campaign to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of the most populous state. Yet she lost to Jerry Brown, her Democratic opponent.

Ms Whitman’s record-breaking sum outstripped the $109m spent by Michael Bloomberg in his 2009 campaign to be re-elected mayor of New York. She failed to strike a chord with voters despite blanket television commercials that characterised Mr Brown as a weak-willed union stooge unwilling to take the “tough decisions” needed to put California back on track.

“We’ve come up a little short,” she told supporters in her concession speech. “But certainly not for lack of hard work, determination and a clear vision for making our state better.”

Ms Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, did not spend as much as Ms Whitman yet poured millions of dollars of her own money into her campaign to unseat Barbara Boxer in the Senate race. Yet she was unable to prevent voters backing Ms Boxer in what was an 11th consecutive election win for the Democratic senator.

Ms Fiorina “walks in that far right lane”, Ms Boxer told supporters this week. “And that is not where the majority of Californians walk.”

For Mr Brown, victory is the latest chapter in an extraordinary political career that will return him to a position he has held twice before. Mr Brown, who earned the sobriquet “Governor Moonbeam” for his liberal views, was California’s youngest governor when he was first elected in 1975, following in the footsteps of his father, Edmund “Pat” Brown.

At 74, Mr Brown is now the oldest governor the state has ever had. “I want everyone in California to know we might, and we will, have tough times, but if we all pull together . . . tell it like it is, and level with you, we can meet the challenges ahead,” he told his supporters in an e-mail.

Mr Brown spent only a fraction of the Whitman campaign. But he is a wily campaigner: his ratings surged on last month’s news Ms Whitman had employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper for nine years.

In beating Ms Whitman he seems to have avoided the anti-establishment mood that drove Democrats from office elsewhere in the US.

This may be because of his quirky personality and willingness to speak his mind. When asked during the campaign whether he would devote his attention to the job if elected, he said: “At 74, I’m ready. I now have a wife, I come home at night and I don’t try to close down all the bars in Sacramento like I used to when I was last governor of California.”

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