Jerry Brown is looking very strong in his race for governor of California against billionaire Meg Whitman, floating while she flails. After strong performances in two debates and last Wednesday's revelation of Whitman having employed an illegal immigrant housekeeper, who says she was exploited, for nine years, Brown, who was already moving ahead in the race to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger, has leads from eight to 10 points in three brand new private polls by Democrats and Republicans.
And his task may be about to get easier, with national Republicans taking one last shot to boost ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina against Senator Barbara Boxer, who's in the process of taking command of her race for re-election.
Brown was already moving ahead prior to the first debate last Tuesday night. In credible private polling, he was up by three or four points. In some public polls, such as the Los Angeles Times poll, he was ahead by as much as five; in others he was tied.
In conversation the day before the first debate, Brown was relaxed and confident. He had withstood Whitman's biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history and was gaining traction. That continued with his first debate performance, which was spirited and funny in contrast to Whitman's coldly scripted consultant talking points. Brown relaxed and had a little fun out there, coming off far more relatable than his mega-rich rival. He didn't need to knock her out, didn't need to attack on every point, but did focus in on some of the key ones that drive the contrast he needs. He also made sure to focus in on the new boom we can have with greentech, showing the continuity in his life and not acting as though he's the guy from a time warp.
Whitman's script, fatefully, included her opposition to the comprehensive immigration reform and pathway to legalization policies she once supported -- but dramatically flip-flopped on to win the Republican primary -- and her call for a crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants.
On Wednesday and Thursday, we learned that, as Brown put it in his smashing performance in Saturday's debate for Univision, Whitman had failed to crack down on herself. And that her longtime housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan, believed she was financially exploited.
Whitman and her husband Dr. Griff Harsh IV ignored at least one warning from the Social Security Administration that Diaz was using a Social Security number that did not belong to her. And as Talking Points Memo reported last week, they also, as documents released by Whitman's campaign showed, failed to fill out and sign Diaz's Employment Eligibility Verification Form, as required by federal immigration law. This is a typical ploy for an employer who doesn't think the employee is here legally.
Whitman and her handlers first tried the absolute denial and then the modified limited hangout phases of defense. When those failed, as I expected, she went to the blame game of political conspiracy.
But that backfired, in dramatic fashion, in Saturday's debate.
Whitman's Diaz trouble, which centers on her dishonesty, comes about because of her political dishonesty, both in this situation and in the fundamental design of her candidacy.
On Thursday morning, Whitman and her husband, Dr. Griffith Harsh IV, at a hastily called hour-long press conference in LA, insisted that they'd had no idea that Diaz was an illegal immigrant and that LA attorney Gloria Allred was lying and manipulating their former employee.
Whereupon Allred, who'd declined to offer documentation when she and Diaz dropped their bombshell on Wednesday -- choosing to let the dramatic, tearful story of her client carry the day on that day -- held another press conference. A rather devastating press conference. In which she presented the Social Security letter she described on Wednesday, in which the federal authorities notify the Harshes that their employee's purported Social Security number is not her own.
The letter has a notation that Allred says is in Griff Harsh IV's handwriting, directing Nicky to take care of it. And a partially filled out form, also in what she says is Harsh's handwriting, to straighten things out with the government.
In the Republican primary, Steve Poizner pointed out that Meg Whitman and President Barack Obama had the same policy on illegal immigration. Whitman flip-flopped dramatically, setting the stage for her current scandal.
Obviously never returned, as it could not be straightened out.
Whitman spinners had previously claimed that if there was a letter, and they weren't saying there was because supposedly such a letter would only be sent to an employer who had multiple suspect employees -- a point they perhaps should not have made! -- that it was probably intercepted by Diaz. Who in their scenario was responsible for handling the personal mail sent to the home of the CEO of eBay and her Stanford neurosurgeon husband.
Now they've had to acknowledge that the letter is genuine and that Diaz did not steal it, as they'd charged. In this version, Harsh forgot about the letter and never told his wife about it.
Allred can now add a slander suit to her portfolio of coming actions against Whitman, which include the financial exploitation of Nicky Diaz.
Speaking of lying, let's look at Whitman's claim, that she has always had the same policy on illegal immigration.
This is absolutely false.
Last year, Whitman was for comprehensive immigration reform, in the manner of that proposed by John McCain, who presidential campaign she served as a national co-chair. She covered herself by being for a crackdown on illegal employment in this country, a stance which will haunt her now. But in Republican Party politics, she was on the squishy center/left on illegal immigration. She had to be, for she could only hope to beat Jerry Brown by winning a larger share than normal of Latino votes, and her record as CEO of eBay on Latino hiring was actually very poor.
In this 2009 news clip, angrily placed online by the Orange County Tea Party, Whitman says she is against deporting illegal immigrants and favors having them pay a fine and go through a process to remain in the country legally. Now she says she's against that.
In December, Whitman made a fateful mistake. She introduced her first radio ad in which she actually spoke, a 60-second affair decrying California's large welfare caseload.
This was a big contradiction, because California's large share of the nation's welfare cases is driven by immigration, and specifically immigrant children.
Whitman's primary rival, Steve Poizner, became persuaded that illegal immigration could be his leading edge issue in going after the soft conservative underbelly of the Whitman campaign. He implemented this strategy, to dramatic effect.
As a result of his great inroads, Whitman flip-flopped, becoming an immigration hawk. Denying that her position of 2009 meant what it did, she re-invented herself, using the bona fides of her campaign chairman, ex-Governor Pete Wilson, to do so.
Wilson, incidentally, also had his own illegal immigrant problem. He, too, had long employed an illegal immigrant housekeeper. Yet he rode to re-election in 1994 against Kathleen Brown, Jerry Brown's sister, through his championing of the draconian anti-illegal immigrant initiative, Proposition 187.
Kathleen Brown's campaign didn't know about Pete Wilson's big problem at the time. Had they known, that election could have turned very differently. As it was, Wilson's illegal immigrant problem surfaced the following year, in 1995, and did much to scuttle his presidential campaign before it got out of the harbor.
Under heavy fire from Poizner, Whitman flip-flopped dramatically on illegal immigration, becoming an immigration hawk, ironically and un-self consciously saying that you can't trust someone who will say anything to win a Republican primary.
For all Whitman's complaining about labor union spending on Brown's behalf -- which, as I reported, has nonetheless been dwarfed by her own spending, as Whitman and her shadowy corporate allies have combined to spend nearly three times as much as all her opponents combined -- the most effective spending defining this race was that by Steve Poizner attacking her squishiness on illegal immigration.
That is what forced her to the right on illegal immigration, into an utterly untenable position given the reality of her own record, both public and private.
Which helped make Saturday's debate a Jerry Brown turkey shoot.
After gaining an edge in their first debate, last Tuesday night at UC Davis, Brown won a clear victory Saturday at Fresno State. With translation into Spanish, the debate was broadcast and webcast on tape delay on Univision television and Internet channels.
The event was naturally dominated by the scandal around Whitman's longtime illegal immigrant housekeeper/nanny.
Maid in America. Billionaire Meg Whitman, who seeks to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as California's governor, keeps changing her story about her illegal immigrant housekeeper/nanny.
So naturally in the debate she turned to Jerry Brown and accused him of ruining poor Nicky Diaz's life!
There are two problems with Whitman's approach.
1. It's only a smear if the charges are false. In this case, the charges are true. So no one has smeared Meg Whitman. She smeared herself, with her own behavior.
2. Brown isn't behind this. Whitman and her panoply of pricey lobbyists and consultants who script her every move have nothing to back up what she and they are saying.
Whitman is simply a very desperate character.
With these predictable openings, Brown pummeled Whitman throughout the debate, also repeatedly working in his attack on the Achilles heel of her economic program, the budget-busting elimination of the capital gains tax, most of which would benefit people like herself and her friends.
The other top of the ticket Republican in California, ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, has been in trouble longer than Whitman. In fact, Boxer moved in for the kill with a new TV attack ad over the weekend. Which prompted national Republicans to try to hold her off with an attack ad of their own.
CNN/Time polls through last Wednesday night gave Democrats Brown and Boxer identical nine-point leads, 52-43, over Whitman and Fiorina. I don't think Brown was that far ahead of Whitman. But I do think that Boxer was already close to consolidating her race for re-election.
Going for an early kill on Fiorina, she launched a new TV ad attacking Fiorina for championing the outsourcing of jobs while "taking $100 million for herself." Fiorina, it declares, "outsourcing jobs, out for herself."
I first met Barbara Boxer when I was a kid and she was going door to door running for county supervisor. Later I worked on a solar commission with her. She's constantly underestimated.
Senator Barbara Boxer is trying for an early kill on ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina: "Outsourcing Jobs, Out for Herself."
Boxer wasn't the favorite in the Democratic primary when she first ran for Congress in 1982 to replace her former boss, John Burton, now chairman of the California Democratic Party. She wasn't the favorite in the Democratic primary when she first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992. Every six years, like clockwork, Republicans think they're going to knock her off.
It doesn't happen.
Boxer is a knee-jerk liberal, somewhat to the left of California. Fiorina is a corporate conservative, well to the right of California. Boxer and her experienced, very capable team know how to win in California.
Meanwhile, Brown launched two new TV ads over the weekend, one a positive spot in which he discusses his ideas, values, and record, and one a negative spot in which he attacks billionaire Meg Whitman for dishonesty, her controversial tenure as an inside trading board member of Goldman Sachs, and for vastly enriching herself at eBay while the company's value plunged. "Shouldn't character matter?"
Whitman and her advisors always worried about running with Fiorina, fearing that her negatives would reinforce Whitman's negatives.
If voters reject one very entitled political rookie pushing policies to benefit the financial elite, they're not likely to select the other.
That's why Whitman and her backers strongly encouraged ex-Congressman Tom Campbell to quit the governor's race and run for senator, as I reported months ago. At least he would not reinforce Whitman's problems. But Campbell, the putative front-runner, fell predictably far short.
That was just one early sign that Whitman's vastly complicated plan to acquire the governorship of California was turning problematic.