Milken Institute
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Politics, California style
By: Milken Institute
October 19, 2010
The latest polls put Jerry Brown ahead of Meg Whitman in the race to be California's next governor. A panel of political strategists at the State of the State Conference suggested Brown's lead is as much about what Whitman has done wrong as what Brown has done right.

Here are a few snippets from the debate, but watch the video for more of this wide-ranging discussion. (Don't miss pollster Frank Luntz's entertaining analysis of the best ads of the campaign season at the start of the session.)

Whitman vs. Brown: While it's not too late for Whitman to turn it around, the speakers believe Brown is on track to win. Bill Carrick of Carrick Consulting said Whitman lacked an overarching narrative, and USC's Susan Estrich said Whitman's ads were "cold" and failed to show her connecting with people. She alienated voters by campaigning for too long and spending too much, Edelman's Steve Schmidt said. Don Sipple of Sipple:Strategic Communications said Whitman's fatal flaw may be timing: Like Gov. Schwarzenegger, she has no political background, and voters in this atmosphere won't "replace Schwarzenegger with another Schwarzenegger."

Bipartisanship: The panelists had greater hope for bipartisanship under Brown than Whitman. As Carrick said, only a Democrat can go to constituencies like the labor unions and ask them to make sacrifices for the good of the state. Asked if political strategists were partly responsible for the lack of civil discourse in general, the panelists generally agreed that anger, not political tactics, is motivating voters. "The tea party euphoria is making civil war in the Republican Party," Sipple said, and the decibel level isn't going down.

Term limits and initiatives: Term limits were the most often-mentioned challenge California faces, with the strategists saying it results in inexperienced lawmakers and an atmosphere of constant campaigning. The initiative process seemed to rank second, though Carrick noted that the vast majority of initiatives are voted down. Estrich said voters are unlikely to let go of the initiative process unless government can revive their trust.

Immigration: Carrick thinks other states that are now wrestling with immigration will eventually follow California's lead and support a path to citizenship. Proposition 187 had lingering effects on Republican candidates in subsequent elections, he said, and "demagoguing" no longer resonates with California voters.


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