4 campaigns, each with its own distinct style
The California campaigns for governor and senator can look like one big unwieldy whole, moving inexorably toward November, cluttering television screens and radio airwaves and mailboxes statewide. Close up, they are four campaigns distinct in style and personality. There is Republican Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor, where nothing is accidental. There is Democrat Jerry Brown’s challenge, reveling in its just-out-of-bed disorganization. There is Barbara Boxer’s campaign, that of a Democratic senator staring down her toughest challenge in an anti-incumbent year. And there is Carly Fiorina’s campaign, with its first-time candidate trying to replicate other come-from-behind Republican victories this rambunctious year.
At a dusty manufacturing plant in San Diego, the stage was set for the former EBay chief. Employees wearing pale blue shirts reading “Made in California” were seated. Studio-quality lighting had been trucked in and turned on. The candidate’s campaign photographer, who was previously the White House photographer for George W. Bush, was at the ready. Whitman bounded onstage as the guitar from Van Halen’s “Right Now” reached a crescendo. She said the firm, Solar Gard Window Films, represented both California’s promise and what’s at stake if state government remains dysfunctional. The cutting-edge company had rebuffed — so far — lucrative offers to move out of state.
“I am convinced we can make the Golden State golden again,” Whitman said. “I will make sure California is the very best place to start and grow a business, where we’re not going to lose another job to a neighboring state.”
Whitman frequently holds events at businesses that have flourished in California but that she claims are threatened by the state’s corporate tax and regulatory burdens.
“My No. 1 priority is to make California more competitive,” she said. “So what we’re going to do is we’re going to cut taxes to get employers hiring here and feel comfortable staying in California.”
Her lavishly produced campaign rallies have the feel of extended infomercials. They take place in front of invitation-only audiences; the lighting and sound are impeccable; the candidate is bolstered by a cadre of staff. In San Diego, Whitman was flanked by three large banners that read “Jobs Are on the Way.” They were printed in the same shade as the T-shirts worn by the employees.
Whitman’s message has not wavered since she won the primary: She is a businesswoman and political outsider who can fix Sacramento, and Democratic rival Brown is a relic owned by labor unions.
“I am not career politician,” Whitman said. “Jerry Brown was governor 35 years ago. If he wins this election, which I will work very hard to make sure doesn’t happen, he will be the youngest governor and the oldest governor in California. This is his 14th election; that does not include primaries. He has run for just about every office in this state and it has been a lifetime in politics and a legacy of failure.”
Jerry Brown walked briskly to his waiting car, chased by a pack of reporters after a campaign event at Laney College in Oakland. The Democrat, barely visible in recent months as Whitman pummeled him with advertising, said he was energized for their impending battle.
“I’ve been ready all of my life,” Brown said. “In fact, I’ve been preparing myself just for this, and I think it’s going to be quite successful. At least I hope it will.”
The event, like all of Brown’s, was low-frills and low-cost — his campaign toted a lectern, a handful of signs and a small sound system and placed them in front of the college gym. The candidate made his pitch before a throng of reporters and dozens of passing students.
Over the summer, Brown walked two paths: quietly rallying the Democratic faithful and occasionally promoting his green-jobs plans, a way to remind voters of his previous two terms as governor while focusing on his most specific policy proposal in this year’s contest. But now he was trying to pick up speed.
At Laney, Latino politicians and community leaders extolled Brown’s history of support and decried what they saw as Whitman’s divisive tactics. Brown, in a trademark stream-of-consciousness address, broadened the scope of the message. He said that he alone could return the state to its former glory.
“I’m glad that I had the opportunity to be mayor of Oakland, to walk these streets all over, from east to west. I’m also glad I’ve had the experience of being governor. I’ve worked with 120 legislators, I know the frustration,” he said. “So at this point, I’ve got the energy, I’ve got the enthusiasm, and I’ve got the will to transform this breakdown into a breakthrough.
“We just have to pull together and to get it done, and this November that’s exactly what I hope the people of California will vote for,” he said. “Real change, not bought change, not marketing propaganda, but real change for the people of California, thinking together as a family, Californians first.”
The classroom at L.A. Trade Tech-Technical College was already steamy, packed with more than 100 Democratic volunteers, when Sen. Barbara Boxer arrived. A few anxious aides swirled around her to make sure a copy of her speech and her height-boosting “Boxer box” were exactly in their places at the lectern. The audience had given up its Saturday for a training session on how to re-engage first-time voters who backed President Obama in 2008. Boxer was there to give them the kind of speech she gives best — the scrappy, red-meat meal that fires up the party faithful.
In high wedge heels, with the sleeves of her dark gray suit rolled up, she stepped on her box and ordered the crowd to take notes. She eased in by listing some of her 1,000 “Boxer provisions” — which her aides have painstakingly catalogued to steel her against her rival Fiorina’s charge of ineffectiveness. But she hit her stride when she got to the now-famous comments by Fiorina about Boxer’s hair, the hot mic gaffe that has turned from a laugh line into the framework of Boxer’s stump speech.
“She called my hairstyle, and I quote, ‘Soooooo yesterday.’ Well you know — it might be true, and I admit I’ve had my share of bad hair days,” Boxer said. “But my policies?” Her voice drops to a whisper: “are not yesterday.”
“My opponent’s policies are very yesterday.... More deregulation, more tax cuts to the top — that’s her solution to the greatest recession since the Great Depression, a return to George Bush economics, and that is sooooo....”
“Yesterday” the crowd croons. Now, on cue, they gleefully answer Boxer’s descriptions of Fiorina’s stands on abortion, immigration, drilling and the assault weapons ban — all “so yesterday.”
“Didn’t she get fired?” a woman interrupts from the second row.
“I’m getting to that,” Boxer replies with a grin. By the time she’s blasted Fiorina’s record as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard and her $20-million severance check, the Democratic senator is bouncing on the balls of her feet for emphasis.
“Do you want to go back to the policies of yesterday?” she asks. “No!” the crowd answers.
“Can I count on you?” she shouts. “Yeah!” the crowd yells back.
It’s the day after her first debate with Boxer, and Carly Fiorina glides into a GOP campaign office in Burbank with Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), another political newcomer whose against-the-odds victory signaled the rising wave of voter anger that she hopes to ride to Washington.
While Boxer has perfected the quick tour at many of her events — often greeting workers with a little wave and a hello from across the room — Fiorina, in kitten heels and a slim black sheath cinched at the waist, takes her time, shaking nearly every hand and lingering long enough to exchange a few words about the debate or a joke about how little sleep she’s gotten lately.
“You were the lady up there,” gushes an admirer from La Verne.
“You filleted her,” a Westwood party activist tells her.
There are few frills at Fiorina’s events these days — an indication of the steep fundraising challenges she faces. Red, white and blue bunting has been draped over the blinds under the fluorescent lights of the borrowed office. Fiorina’s red and orange campaign signs have been taped to the walls along with those of gubernatorial candidate Whitman. There is no stage, just blue tape on the floor, marking where she should stand.
When Fiorina takes the microphone, she is, as always, unfailingly on message. “Folks have figured out that career politicians have become part of the problem,” Fiorina says, bobbing her head for emphasis every few words. “They’re not about solving the problem; they’re about feathering their own nests, and taking care of their friends and staying in office.”
She tells the volunteers it’s crucial to get the word out about her campaign promises: creating jobs, growing the economy, getting government spending under control and making leaders more accountable. She circles back to the debate, during which Boxer had flayed her record presiding over layoffs and the relocation of American jobs overseas as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.
“Her strategy is to vilify me, to mischaracterize my record, my beliefs, to do anything she can to polarize the electorate and keep California voters’ attention off of her record, her lack of accomplishment and her extreme beliefs,” she said. “That strategy will not work if you continue to do as you are doing here today and remind people in California what’s actually at stake.”