Whitman: Echoes of McCain?

Steven Greenhut: Polls show that Jerry Brown has gained a slight lead on GOP candidate Meg Whitman despite her record-setting $119 million contribution to her race. My guess is that the polls will stay fairly tight but that Brown will solidly win the election. I’m not happy about that, given that Brown helped create the mess we have in California today. He will use his power as governor to further drive businesses from the state and to impose draconian land-use rules on every county in the name of fighting global warming (or whatever other excuse his enviro-authoritarian friends come up with). He will be a tool of the public-employee unions. I don’t buy the “Nixon Goes To China” argument that Brown will be able to confront the unions and gain meaningful concessions.

But Whitman probably will lose because she doesn’t appear to believe anything. She takes positions based on focus groups and polls. She comes across as someone who lacks core beliefs, but who wants to win because she wants to be governor. Her pension reform plan exempts most of public safety from the reform — so why even bother? She says she supports reform of global warming rules but opposes Prop. 23, which is not even an artful dance around the issue. She supports Prop. 22, which gives property-rights-destroying redevelopment agencies a permanent hand in the cookie jar. Given her past support for eminent domain in Colorado, it’s not a surprise that she doesn’t have the right instinct on this issue. Her staff has morphed into a huge bureaucracy. If that’s how she runs a campaign, imagine how she will run the governor’s office.

I recall another big-government Republican, John McCain, who perhaps could have saved his candidacy by coming back to Washington to oppose the bailout, but instead he came back to town to support it. Whitman could have sealed the support of conservatives by supporting Prop. 23, but one has to have actual principles to take a principled position. Like McCain, she might have missed her big moment to distinguish herself. I don’t care how much money she pumps into her campaign, but it’s starting to backfire. It looks like she’s trying to buy the election.

Her reasoning is fine. She says she’s willing to stake a fortune on a candidacy in order to save the state. I just can’t figure what ideas she has that will dramatically reform the state. It’s that authenticity thing again. I have no doubt she would be better than Brown, but I have no hope that she would do anything more far-reaching than the current governor. She is inauthentic. The public sees this. Brown also lacks principle. He goes with the wind, except on a those issues where he is consistently wrong. But he is what he is — he comes across as authentic rather than as a carefully crafted, consultant-tested machine. He’s likable in the way that one likes one’s nutty old uncle. Whitman is cold, calculating, unlikable. These are bad choices at a crucial time.

Furthermore, conservatives are in a foul mood this year. The Tea Parties show that. They are finally willing to vote their consciences rather than vote for the winnable candidate. That does not bode well for Whitman. I hear conservatives tell me that she doesn’t excite them and that it’s fine if Brown wins. They will come back and fight another day rather than vote for the gubernatorial equivalent of John McCain. I disagree with conservatives on many things, but at least I know what they stand for.

Many of them think that we’ll just let Brown deal with the mess he and his union allies helped create. Perhaps that’s just desserts. That’s an increasingly common attitude. It’s a scary thought.

California’s policies are unsustainable. They are beyond what any candidate can handle. The budget and the financial markets will determine California’s future given that there are no leaders who can step the plate — at least no leaders who can actually get elected. I still recall when the state’s moderate business community sat on its hands while Tom McClintock ran for governor and controller. Whitman is their kind of candidate. But they can’t win the election for her. It takes voters, and I don’t think enough of them will buy whatever it is she’s selling. I hope I’m wrong. I probably will vote for Whitman to keep Brown at bay. But it’s hard to win elections without exciting the base. I sense no excitement. Her lack of authenticity breeds complacency. We’ll see if money can overcome that obstacle.

SEPT. 27

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