Brown leads in the polls — narrowly — but he's vulnerable. He's taken so many stands over so many years and Whitman's fortune will hammer any openings they see. Brown is only slowly getting into campaign mode, but it's no secret what he has to do. If the campaign is about Jerry Brown, unconventional politician, against Meg Whitman, Wall Street darling, then he wins.
But to take advantage of that, Brown has to offer some concrete solutions to the state's problems — and he has to start acting like the progressive he once was. "If I were him, I'd run hard to the left," a consultant who isn't involved in any of the gubernatorial campaigns said.
The conventional wisdom had Barbara Boxer in trouble, too — but she's a savvy campaigner who has beaten the odds before. And while the senator appears ripe for attack — almost 30 years in Washington, a voting record perhaps a bit more liberal than the state as a whole — her opponent, Fiorina, has baggage too.
For starters, Fiorina's entire pitch is that she — like Whitman — would bring business-world savvy to politics. But as CEO of HP, "she was about perks and pink slips," Newman said. "She laid off Californians and shipped those jobs overseas while enriching herself."
Her own primary pushed her far to the right (at one point, in an embarrassing sop to the National Rifle Association, she actually argued that suspected terrorists on the federal no-fly list should be able to buy handguns). And speaking of feminist values, her anti-abortion positions won't help her in a decidedly pro-choice state.
PROP. 16 GOES DOWN
The defeat of Proposition 16 will go down in history as one of the most remarkable campaigns ever. It was, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi noted, "a righteous win:" The No on 16 campaign spent less than $100,000 and still captured 52 percent of the vote. Another narrow corporate-interest measure, Mercury Insurance's Prop. 17, faced a similar fate.
One reason: PG&E's $50 million campaign backfired, making voters suspicious of the company's propaganda. Another: it lost overwhelmingly in its own service area, the company rejected by those who know it best.
Now PG&E CEO Peter Darbee, who pushed to mount the expensive campaign, must return to his shareholders empty-handed — and that's going to cause problems. "I assume the leadership of PG&E will be called to task," Clemens said. "They truly rolled the dice."
The day after the election, PG&E shares dropped 2.2 percent, a possible sign of shaken investor confidence. Mindy Spatt of the Utility Reform Network (TURN), a nonprofit that worked on the No on 16 effort, described the situation succinctly. "Peter Darbee's got egg on his face," she said. "Big-time."
Mirkarimi has witnessed other battles with PG&E, and said this probably wouldn't be the last. "PG&E, every time we want to have a seat at the table, tries to take us out, like assassins," he said. "If they were smart, they would take us up on what we asked many years ago, and that is to abide by peaceful coexistence."
On the statewide level, the bold and expensive deceptions pushed by PG&E and Mercury Insurance were countered by only a handful of super-committed activists and a broad cross-section of newspaper editorials, a reminder that newspapers — battered by the economy and technological changes — are neither dead nor irrelevant.
One of the wild cards of the election was Prop. 14, which will eliminate party primaries for state offices — and potentially shake up the state's entire political structure. "This is a big deal even if we don't know how it's going to play out," consultant David Latterman said at the SPUR event.
Interestingly, the only two counties that voted No on 14 were the most progressive — San Francisco — and the most conservative, Orange.