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Brown Won -- and Whitman Lost Big

A Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Friday, November 05, 2010

At his post-victory news conference Wednesday morning, Governor elect Jerry Brown showed why he won the election with a million votes to spare. He's steeped in the issues, he listens to what is happening on the ground, and he's not afraid to mix it up.

Now, I don't agree with Brown on a number of issues. But in the course of the campaign, I rarely got the feeling that Meg Whitman was listening to anyone other than her consultants or that she was even curious. California needs a strong governor; Whitman showed them a wind-up doll.

Worse, the former eBay CEO spent most of the campaign ducking. She often ducked reporters' questions. She ducked all but one primary debate. She ducked her responsibility to look beyond the spreadsheet.

Now it may be that if Whitman had run a great campaign, she would have lost anyway. California is a solidly Democratic state. Voters here rejected the red wave that washed over other states, and it is possible that anti-tea party sentiment buoyed the Democrats to victory.

(I thought Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina ran a much better race than Whitman, yet Fiorina garnered a mere 67,000 more votes than Whitman -- and also lost big.)

We'll never know what would have happened if Whitman ran a great campaign because she didn't. Whitman's profligacy in pouring $141 million of her own money undercut her claim that she would be a cost-cutter. (When Whitman conceded the governor's race, she looked as if she were going to cry. I'd be bawling like a baby if I had spent $140 million to get trounced as soundly as she was.)

In September, Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo told The San Francisco Chronicle, "People were toying with the idea of voting for Whitman." Some Republicans will blame the Nicky Diaz Santillan story for Whitman's demise. But I think that by the time voters learned that Whitman had hired and fired an illegal immigrant housekeeper, they already had decided there was no "there there."

I don't see a way out for the California Republican Party.

"The party depended on Meg," Abel Maldonado, who lost his bid to hold onto the lieutenant governorship, told me. "There's no secret. The party's in a wheelchair and we have a respirator on it."

Whitman was rich, and for reasons unknown, she thought she would be a swell candidate for governor.

Republicans in the fellow big-shot club decided to throw raised buds in her path. They didn't care about her spotty voting record, history of donating to Democrats or the fact that she'd never run for anything. They saw themselves as big-picture people.

Consultants queued up with their hands out, proffering money-sucking strategies. Whether Whitman won or lost, they'd be cashing big checks through November. With all their clout behind her, Whitman essentially had won the GOP primary before a single vote was cast.

You watch. In four years, the folks behind Whitman Inc. will find another rich sucker who just discovered politics and wants to make a big-splash career move. And they won't care if that candidate is a drag on the ticket because they'll have got theirs.

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