06/19/2010 01:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What We Know Now About the Big California Races

Nearly two weeks into the general election, here are seven key things we know now about the races for California governor and senator. Both races are fully engaged and trends are emerging.

* Billionaire Meg Whitman, running against Jerry Brown to try to succeed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, running to try to replace Senator Barbara Boxer, are running mates. Whether, to coin a phrase, they like it or not.

As the nominees for governor and U.S. senator, they head the Republican ticket. And they have a lot in common.

Billionaire Meg Whitman's TV ad recasting her corporate conservative agenda as one of concern for the unemployed gets mixed reviews from media professionals.

Both are corporate conservatives, and backers of offshore oil drilling (though she falsely claimed recently to have always opposed offshore drilling, Whitman only changed her position a few months ago).

Both are super-rich political novices with no record in public affairs prior to taking on leadership roles in the 2008 Republican presidential campaign. Whitman was national co-chair of the McCain/Palin campaign, while Fiorina served McCain and Palin as national chair of the Republican Victory Fund.

Both are controversial former CEOs of big Silicon Valley companies, leaving as the stock prices of eBay and Hewlett Packard shot downward.

Both are staunch opponents of President Barack Obama, who carried California in 2008 with 61% of the vote and continues to be quite popular here. Not only did both play major roles in the Republican presidential campaign in 2008, Whitman and 2012 Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney both acknowledge that Romney came up with the idea for Whitman to run for governor and then convinced her to do it.

Not that Whitman is thrilled by having Fiorina as her ticket mate, despite what she said at the Republicans' morning-after-the-primary unity rally. The two don't especially like one another. And Whitman, as I reported months ago, preferred ex-Congressman Tom Campbell, which is why her camp helped persuade him to quit the governor's race and take a third stab at the Senate.

As former Governor Gray Davis -- who was defeated by Schwarzenegger but has since become a friend -- mentioned to me yesterday, "Whitman and Fiorina reinforce each other in negative ways."

The presence of two very rich corporate insiders with no experience with government other than lobbying for special favors running for two of the biggest political offices in America veers the Republican ticket way off the Scott Brown template for winning in a mostly blue state.

* Fiorina is going to be an energetic and entertaining candidate, but will have a very tough time beating Senator Barbara Boxer. Like Whitman, her politics are too conservative and corporate for California. Unlike Whitman, she doesn't have the vast amounts of money needed to try to obscure that reality. And she's a little more conservative than Whitman.

Ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, on her statewide jobs tour, campaigned against the Obama economic stimulus program.

Last weekend, Boxer joined First Lady Michelle Obama at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, leading Fiorina's campaign to charge that the Obama White House is still working to shore up the veteran Democratic senator. Guilty as charged, no doubt. Though Obama and her daughters proceeded to take a California vacation right after that.

Fiorina is trying to make Boxer's support for Obama's economic recovery program a negative in the campaign. Boxer's campaign pointed out, with a certain amount of glee, that Fiorina did two events this week bashing Boxer for the economic stimulus at firms that received recovery act funding. Which the Fiorina campaign says was by design, that the funds didn't help the firms in their business.

Which doesn't exactly stand as a testament to those firms' ability to do conduct their business.

The fundamental problem for Fiorina on the issue, aside from Obama's popularity, is that people are coming to like the idea of the economic stimulus. In fact a brand new Gallup/USA Today poll shows that more economic stimulus spending is actually very popular.

Neither campaign is likely to be on the air soon. Fiorina is very wealthy, but simply doesn't have the resources to advertise anywhere near as much as Whitman. If Boxer is outspent, it won't be by much.

* Just beneath the surface, there is a disturbing pattern of behavior around Meg Whitman.

On the heels of the New York Times revelation early in the week that Whitman, a few months before she left eBay, had to settle a claim for reportedly shoving a smaller female employee who was attempting to prepare her for a wire service interview on the not terribly consequential topic of online avatars came another report in Gawker on another altercation.

This one involves Whitman's son, Griffith Rutherford Harsh V, who was arrested in Palo Alto four years ago after he shoved a girl who fell down and broke her ankle.

Whitman's son was charged with felony battery, and Whitman herself bailed him out the next morning with a $25,000 cashier's check.

Does California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's violent temper and bullying behavior run in the family? The billionaire ex-eBay CEO's son was charged with felony battery for breaking a woman's ankle after her friend said "Fuck you" and "Fuck your fraternity."

A 22-year-old woman named Valerie Sanchez was riding a bus to Palo Alto's Blue Chalk Cafe on the night of May 26, 2006 when she crossed paths with Griffith Rutherford Harsh V, Meg's eldest son and a notoriously delinquent sophomore at Princeton at the time. According to a police report filed later that night, Sanchez and her friends had mocked his fraternity and said "fuck you" and "fuck your fraternity" to him before Sanchez swiped Griff's baseball cap off his head. The altercation escalated when both parties arrived at Blue Chalk Cafe. According to Valerie's statement to the police, they were inside the bar when Griff "pushed" her "with two open hands on her chest and shoulder area." She fell down and felt her right ankle "snap." A nearby security guard witnessed the event and corroborated Valerie's version of the events.

The arrest report is there with the larger story.

The "V" in Griffith Harsh V, incidentally, does not stand for Victory or Visitor. It stand for "the fifth."

Gawker reports that Whitman's son graduated a year late from her alma mater Princeton after a year-long disciplinary probation, and that he was banned from living on campus. Which was ironic, in that Whitman gave $30 million to Princeton to create the Whitman College residential complex on campus.

Charges against Whitman's son were dismissed after several court dates, and the victim was not available for comment.

According to the New York Times, the incident involving Whitman herself was a year later. Whitman and eBay pursued a mediated settlement with the employee, with the company paying a reported $200,000 to settle any claims or charges. Whitman left ebay a few months later.

This was not the first time that Whitman exited a CEO post not long after a settlement was paid to deal with claims against her.

During her other CEO stint, this at FTD, the national floral delivery company, a senior employee charged Whitman with age discrimination. A settlement was reached not long before Whitman exited the firm.

As you will recall, as a board member of Goldman Sachs, Whitman indulged in inside trades available only to a few.

In the Goldman Sachs case, as well, she paid a settlement and exited the firm.

Attorney General Jerry Brown and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined forces in November 2007 to sue the Bush/Cheney Administration for its attempts to block California landmark climate change/renewable energy program, which Meg Whitman opposes.

* New industries and jobs from green technology are a major issue.

On the day on which President Barack Obama laid out his response to BP's Gulf oil disaster, the talk in California gubernatorial politics turned largely to greenery.

Jerry Brown was in Mountain View, unveiling a big green jobs package before the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Brown, speaking to business executives in the high tech mecca of Silicon Valley, spoke some about reforming Sacramento. He reminded that he supports the Proposition 14 open primary initiative, joked about the Legislature ignoring the state budget for months after the governor introduces it in January to focus on "cigarette butts on the beach," and joked again that he has a "secret plan" to solve the state's chronic budget crisis a la Nixon's secret plan to end the Vietnam War. (Which naturally prompted the humorless Whitman campaign, which has an utterly nonsensical plan, to criticize him for the joke.)

But Brown spoke mainly about his plan to further stimulate the clean tech economy in California, to create 500,000 green jobs and create 20,000 megawatts of power.

Key to that is aggressively implementing the state's renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to dramatically increase the amount of electricity generated by renewable energy, speeding up clearances for new transmission capacity for renewable power, install solar power systems on public and commercial buildings, focus on new energy storage, provide incentives for consumers to solarize and make their homes more energy efficient, and implement the AB 32 climate change program, which plays a forcing function for renewable technology development and diffusion.

Whitman opposes the climate change program. First she called for a one-year moratorium. More recently, she's made statements that the program should be ended altogether.

Brown reminded the audience that, during his first governorship, California led the world in renewable power and provided the template for the efficient use of energy.

"I believe California can be the leader again," Brown said.

Whitman's new Spanish language advertising tries to recast her positioning after the harsh rhetoric of her Republican primary campaign.

* Whitman's record-shattering spending and attempts to redefine reality through advertising are continuing.

Whitman spent nearly three times as much from her personal funds in simply winning the Republican primary as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has for every campaign of his political career, which includes two landslide elections as governor and a myriad of initiative campaigns.

Then this week she added another $20 million from her personal fortune to her campaign coffers. That's because her campaign, which spent a record-shattering $90 million in the Republican primary, was out of money.

Former Governor Davis doesn't think that all this spending, and the incessant advertising that it has fueled for many months and will continue to fuel, is going to wear very well with California voters in the end.

She also began an effort to dramatically reverse course from her primary campaign in an attempt to appeal to Latino voters.

Whitman predictably launched a Spanish language TV ad depicting her as a friend to Latinos and opponent of the Arizona immigration law. And just as predictably, the California Democratic Party provided translations of Whitman's harsh anti-illegal immigrant advertising from the Republican primary, featuring her campaign chairman, former Governor Pete Wilson, to all Spanish language media.

During the primary, Whitman, who somehow managed not to hire Latino executives at California-based eBay, had hoped to appeal to Latino voters by touting her support for comprehensive immigration reform. But she was scared out of that position by rival Republican Steve Poizner.

In the end, she resorted to harsh anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric, with her campaign chairman Pete Wilson -- notorious in the Latino community for his passage of 1994's draconian Proposition 187, thrown out by the courts -- assuring in various commercials and mailings that Whitman is "tough as nails" on immigration.

Whitman is also continuing to run an English language TV ad that seeks to recast her hard-edged corporate conservative agenda of big tax cuts for the wealthy and regulatory rollbacks as evidence of her deep concern for the unemployed.

Professionals in both parties question whether or not Whitman comes off as sincere in the effort.

* Jerry Brown needs to stay focused.

A curious episode surrounding Brown's purported likening of Whitman to Nazis, which emerged on a seldom updated blog blasted out by the Whitman campaign to the Drudge Report and the press, died down about as quickly as it flared up. But it provided a cautionary tale for Brown, who will win this race if he does not allow distractions. Or create them.

The story would have been even better if Brown had actually compared Whitman to a Nazi. In the actual encounter, written up by a local radio reporter who ran into Brown jogging in the Oakland hills sometime before the primary on a day he didn't say, Brown is referring to a propaganda technique called "the Big Lie" developed by Joseph Goebbels.

Not that this is made all that clear on the blog, which was updated less than once a month prior to this posting the night after the primary, with the general election campaign just starting out.

No one knew about it until the Whitman campaign drew the press's attention to it and placed it on the Drudge Report. All the better to attempt to distract from a debate Whitman was losing over her refusal to participate in town hall debates with Brown.

Lesson for Brown: Don't talk in a candid, unguarded manner with a reporter whose name you don't know and who is so irritated by that fact that he mentions it twice in his blog posting, even if he isn't taking notes or recording the conversation.

All kidding aside, Whitman's attempt to use this blog posting didn't work this time. But if Brown isn't more careful about what he is saying and how it can easily be misconstrued, he will hand Whitman a real edge that she may well not get from her incessant advertising.

Whitman struggles to explain why she didn't vote in this TV ad by the California Working Families independent expenditure committee.

* Independent expenditure committees are real. As I wrote last week, the California Working Families independent expenditure (IE) committee on Monday launched a TV ad attacking Whitman for her lifelong record of hardly ever bothering to vote.

Then Working Californians, an independent expenditure committee of several years standing working in alliance with the new California Working Families IE, launched a statewide radio advertising campaign. Working Californians, a labor-backed group, played a significant role in helping elect California state John Chiang in 2006 when he ran against a better-financed Republican opponent.

This is a 60-second positive radio ad on Brown's policies and record which will run in markets around the state for the next four weeks.

Independent expenditure committees are prohibited from coordinating with the campaign they support.

How effective will all this advertising be? Media professionals have a mixed view of the first TV ad, with some liking it and some decidedly not liking it. Of course, you have to factor professional competitiveness into these assessments as well. I'm on the lookout for research on how the advertising is playing with voters who see it on their TV sets.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...