Why Whitman is leading in the polls

When Meg Whitman bested Steve Poizner a few months ago, moderates all over California breathed a sigh of relief that a Republican with more in common ideologically with Arnold Schwarzenegger than with Rush Limbaugh would be competing in the gubernatorial race. Moreover, Whitman’s deep pockets freed up the California Republican Party to work on its House races, as well as give the occasional buck to the less-wealthy but still effective Carly Fiorina.  

What no one expected, however, is that after making the Thatcherite gambit of taking on the California Nurses’ Association, a move which sent shivers down the spine of everyone who fears a Californian incarnation of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and also after blocking a resolution supporting the Arizona Immigration Law in the GOP Platform, thus angering the Right, Whitman would still be commanding the polls. Yet, this is precisely what’s happened as Real Clear Politics puts her up 5 points. This is an encouraging situation for Whitman, and she still has plenty of advantages to use before November rolls around.  

Whitman’s advantages are many, but boil down mostly to strong financing, national mood and ideological appeal. Obviously, Whitman’s financial situation makes things very difficult for Jerry Brown, her less deep-pocketed Democratic opponent, who would find it difficult to keep up with Whitman if she’d spent as little as one quarter of what she’s actually spent. As it is, Whitman’s staggering contribution of $119 million to her own campaign has not only bolstered her work, but has also flowed into the coffers of subordinate campaigns, creating a Republican machine unified not just around her ideologically, but also dependent on her financially. Given Whitman’s background as a titan CEO, this kind of party commandeering can only lead to a more streamlined campaign statewide.  

Then, there is the national mood. Here, Whitman’s business background cancels out the native suspicion of deep pockets that Jerry Brown is praying will save him. Were Whitman as rich as she is, and possessed of a background in politics, she would be dismissed as part of the parasitic “ruling class” faster than you can say “Mike Castle.” But as it is, her business background carries more appeal for Independents and voters disillusioned with the political process than her opponent’s decades of work as a career politician. This political advantage means that even without her large amounts of money, Whitman will have less explaining to do than her opponent, and is less vulnerable.  

Especially when you consider her ideological appeal, as already mentioned, Whitman is more centrist than her Senate counterpart, Carly Fiorina, and also comes off as far more gentle. At a time when California is so utterly sick of partisanship that it will pass a top two open primary initiative to negate the effects of partisan politics, a figure as centrist as Whitman has tried to be will only prove more attractive. This again is in contrast with Jerry Brown, who has run a barnstorming, conventionally Democratic and populist campaign that clearly won’t look nearly as post-partisan as Whitman’s campaign. Moreover, while another politician with Whitman’s ideology could be accused of being a Schwarzenegger clone, Whitman has several tools with which to blunt this attack, not the least of which being that she’s not advised by Democrats (as Schwarzenegger has been for years), that she is a more successful businesswoman than Schwarzenegger ever was, and that she has the courage of her convictions, rather than simply the polls in her back pocket.  

None of this is to suggest that Meg Whitman’s victory is inevitable. However, it is a decent case for why her victory is at least likely. Jerry Brown’s side of the story will be forthcoming, but for now, Meg Whitman has proven that not only can she not be underestimated, but she is a force to be reckoned with.