Fiorina’s Whitman problem

In the grand scheme of challenges for prospective political office-holders, self-funded candidates tend to be seen as having the easiest prospects – large sums of cash, a track record of success and only the dangers of class warfare as a potential opposing campaign strategy.

The notion that self-funding removes many of the challenges involved in campaigning is summed up most concisely in the TV show 30 Rock, wherein Steve Martin jokingly informs Alec Baldwin’s character that “you’re rich enough that you could run for office and not pretend to be a fundamentalist.” 

However, the campaign of Carly Fiorina, as currently advertised, seems to be showing a few holes in the theory that self-funding is the easiest tool by which to succeed as a candidate. Witness this recent story from BusinessWeek

     “Fiorina lent her campaign $5.5 million before the June 8 primary, but has contributed nothing from her own bank account since and risks losing momentum that has turned the race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer into a toss-up…Fiorina’s financial disclosure report filed with the Senate shows that she has assets valued at between $25.6 million and $115.9 million, far less than her fellow Republican [Meg Whitman], who has said she is willing to spend $150 million on her run for governor.” 

The results, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, are less than edifying for supporters of Fiorina: 

     “The latest Public Policy Polling survey shows her ahead of GOP rival Carly Fiorina 49%-40%, up from a 45%-42% split in May. Tom Jensen at Democratic-leaning PPP writes that Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a newcomer to politics, ‘wasn’t particularly well liked before the primary, when 22% of voters said they had a favorable opinion of her and 30% said they viewed her unfavorably. Now they like her even less.’ Independents, in particular, haven’t been enthusiastic. While Fiorina’s favorability rating among independents has risen to 20% from 15%, her unfavorability has jumped to 40% from 23%.” 

This suggests something fundamentally interesting about the relationship between Whitman and Fiorina as it pertains to California politics. First, the more titanically wealthy Whitman has probably shielded Fiorina from much of the anti-wealth campaigning that her opponents would like to do, simply because Fiorina is by no means the wealthiest fish in the pond. In all the battles over Whitman’s wealth, in other words, the idea that another wealthy candidate should be attacked probably looks recycled. 

At the same time, Fiorina’s image as a competent businesswoman with the wallet to prove it might be causing her some trouble when compared with Whitman. Voters who observe the two and note the similarities are sure to ask why, if Whitman is pouring such a fortune into the election, and Fiorina spent so much to win the primary, why a comparable blitz from Fiorina’s corner is not being executed. In a campaign which has been dogged by charges of irresponsibility and flaky messaging, this is scarcely the sort of question Fiorina wants to raise. 

It is, of course, up for debate whether Fiorina spending her own money would help her campaign at this juncture, or if she should ignore the results from Public Policy Polling on the theory that they are slanted to favor Democrats.

However, it is an option she should consider, especially given that Boxer now knows she has a fight on her hands.