Meg Whitman has proven that, all else being equal, it sure is nice to be rich. After spending $68-per-vote to win the Republican nomination she is now turning her sights, her $90,000/month campaign manager, and her platitudes on Jerry Brown. Her win was impressive, if not predictable considering the over seventy million of her personal fortune that she poured into the race. She won all of California's counties and bested her opponent over two-to-one in votes. Already, Democrats are expressing their concerns about facing an opponent with a massive war chest at a time where the national mood could be souring on anyone seen as an insider. But not to worry -- I put my money on Moonbeam.
Why would Democrats be optimistic in a race like this? Anyone that can remember Wikipedia footnote Al Checchi of the 1998 California Gubernatorial race should know why. After spending tens of millions of his personal fortune, running as an outside candidate (touting his business background, including chairmanship of a major airline) and shattering spending records he was, well, trounced. The victor, Jerry Brown's former Chief of Staff Gray Davis, focused on a simple message: "experience money can't buy." For his 2010 bid, Brown would do well looking into his protege's strategy -- although he should stop short of learning about gubernatorial recalls from him.
Ironically, it looks like this slogan was straight out of a Brown playbook. Ascending to the governorship after successful terms in two different elected offices, his campaign focused on a combination of experience, a call toward significant grassroots participation in government and investment in the future of California. It was a message that resonated with an electorate that felt disengaged from Sacramento and abandoned by its leaders -- the same message that would resonate now.
Marking a political life as the ultimate populist and one who brought significant austerity to the governorship (panning the lavish elements of the office for a simpler approach), Brown is a legitimate contrast to the ostentatious Republican billionaire. While Whitman has shown a penchant for the finer things (as she is on her way to spend over a million dollars on private campaign jets, hundreds of thousands on five star hotels and millions on big time consultants), Brown has flown Southwest airlines and even lived in a sparse and small apartment while serving as governor. He is living by a campaign platform explained as: "It's frugality, it's honesty and it's innovation." At a time when the state is hemorrhaging cash, this no-nonsense approach is the right one. And if Democrats want to take back the California governorship, Brown would do well listening to his former self.
As Whitman spends nearly a half million dollars a day trying to convince voters that she is a fiscal conservative, Brown's style is a welcome change. After all, it is difficult to trust someone's fiscal prowess when they are blowing millions on jets and five-star hotels -- but what would you expect from a former board member of Goldman Sachs?
During Brown's tenure, California led the nation in pretty much everything that mattered -- from education, to the economy, to the environment. This election will be won by the candidate that can convince voters that they will be able to return the state to the way it was when Brown was governor. Sounds like something Moonbeam should be able to do -- he just needs to listen to himself.