Things have been so busy that I may be the last “pundit” in California to weigh in on Monday night’s Gubernatorial debate between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown.
Before I do, I suppose I need to apologize to Gloria Allred for deigning to return to substantive discussion in the race to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger. I am not sure that much commentary is required on my part relative to Allred’s latest publicity stunt – and it’s not-so-curious timing. But I will say that when listening to some video of Whitman Q&A on the issue (courtesy of the SF Chronicle Politics Blog a.k.a. “Shaky Hands Productions”), one reporter asked her why she had not brought up this issue herself prior to Allred’s press conference. I have never spoken with Whitman on this subject, but it seems very reasonable to me that you would develop a close personal relationship with someone who works in your home for better than eight years. So if you need to look for a reason why Whitman did not inject the awkward situation concerning her former housekeeper into the public square, I would probably put concern for the welfare and well being of this person at the top of the list.
That said, look for plenty of MSM coverage of this as Ms. Allred is good at what she does – ginning up a media storm. Ask Governor Schwarzenegger about that. Anyways, this story should be a non-issue (except for the Critics-In-Chief) unless there is any doubt that any reasonable person would have also assumed legal status of a worker who presents proper documentation at time of employment.
OK, getting back to the actual campaign for Governor… As I looked over a lot of the post-debate reviews from the various political pundits who opine on such things, I largely noticed a lack of proper handicapping of the natural debating abilities of these candidates. Jerry Brown, a seasoned politico for generations (literally) is about as good as you can be in an “off the cuff” dynamic environment like you get in a live, televised debate. Meg Whitman, for all of her years of speaking as a corporate executive, does not have the same kind of experience. To be honest, after seeing her performances in the primary in her debates with Steve Poizner, I think the whole process makes her nervous (as it should) and if you aren’t used to being “live” in front of hundreds of thousands of people, that’s pretty understandable. Thus a serious debate handicapper had to go into Monday night’s inaugural show-down between Brown and Whitman assuming that, frankly, that Brown would prevail on experience and debating skills alone.
It is with this in mind that I feel that Whitman won the Monday night showdown. Not because she cleaned Brown’s proverbial clock – but because she largely held her own ground, belying conventional wisdom. Was Brown more comfortable – and did he win, as my friend Joe Mathews put it, the battle of the sound bites? Yep. He had some great one-liners – the kind you throw out there because of a comfort level that he clearly possessed. While Brown was witty, Whitman was focused and had Brown on the defensive quite a bit of the debate, on issues such as his record as Mayor of Oakland, his record on taxes as Governor and his credibility (or lack thereof) to deal with the public employee pension issue (i.e.. being bought and paid for by the unions). I felt Whitman stood her ground pretty well. (Loved this line: “Putting Jerry Brown in charge of negotiating with the labor unions around pensions, around how many people we have in the government is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.”) Whitman stayed focused on policy, and presented herself as a serious candidate. That isn’t to say that Jerry Brown wasn’t also articulate on policy issues – it’s just that, well, he’s supposed to be.
The bottom line about this first debate, and again this engenders to Whitman’s advantage, there was no “TKO” knockout blow landed by Brown on Whitman – and (if you put aside Brown’s odd avoidance of the press corps following the event) Brown had no gaffe’s (to which he is prone) that would set back his campaign. This is all good news for Meg Whitman who is not looking to defeat the “Master Debater” but rather to show that she is able to cogently discuss the major issues facing the state in a public face off against her opponent. Brown needed a big win on Monday, which he didn’t get. I would look for him to try to up and ante somehow at this weekend’s next debate. The enormity of Whitman’s campaign resources, as well as the sophistication that will be applied in spending it, ensures that Whitman’s positions and views will be well presented to voters. It is Brown, who’s campaign fundraising has been weak (and who will have to largely depend on public employee union expenditures to define him to the electorate), who needs to prevail in debate-land.