The corporate takeover of California is on hold according to the latest polls out of the nation’s largest state. Just nine days before the election, the Los Angeles Times and University of Southern California poll shows a nearly impossible uphill battle for the big business ticket of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina.
Among likely voters in the governor’s race, Brown leads Whitman 50% to 38%. In the race for United States Senator, two term Senator Barbara Boxer maintained an 8% lead. The leads by Democrats come from a brand new constituency, those who “never” go to church. More on that later.
The Corporate Duo versus Old Style Liberals
California’s 2010 governor and senate races present a dramatic contrast between corporate power and wealth versus traditional liberal politics in opposition to that power. Republican Meg Whitman decided she’d move on from her job as eBay CEO to the governor’s mansion. She committed to spend as much of her $1.2 billion estimated net worth as needed in order to win. To date, she’s poured in $119 million.
Whitman is a purebred member of The Money Party. While at eBay, Whitman took a seat on the Goldman Sachs board of directors. She had to leave the board when her name came up in a congressional probe on spinning — “a financial maneuver, now banned, in which Goldman and other firms allegedly traded access to hot IPOs for bond business.” Whitman has even inspired her own broadside, Wall Street Whitman, which chronicles her corporate career which includes a $200,000 settlement for allegedly cursing at and shoving a subordinate.
Carly Fiorina’s corporate career is a trail of sorrows for investors and employees. Fortune Magazine debunked her official biography which claims she became a corporate star as CEO of Lucent (formerly Bell Labs) after it spun off from ATT. Fiorina’s idea of sales involved loaning customers the money to buy Lucent’s equipment. When she left with $65 million in bonuses, Lucent had $7 billion in shaky loans. Contrary to her lofty self portrait, Fiorina started practicing the “growth agenda” of outsized revenue growth in return for big bonuses and favored treatment of the company by Wall Street.
Fiorina’s next stop was Hewlett Packard. She immediately began acquiring companies including Compaq, a giant PC manufacturer. Her timing couldn’t have been worse. When then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan burst the tech bubble, Fiorina was left with her ill-advised acquisitions. She began massive layoffs to compensate for her poor timing and strategy. That led to her famous remarks in 2004: “There is no job that is America’s God-given right anymore. We have to compete for jobs as a nation.” By 2005, the HP board had enough and showed Fiorina the door. HP stock went up between 7% and 10% on the announcement.
Whitman and Fiorina don’t stand for much more than lower taxes and dumping regulations, the mantra of the current era of greed. They like education, but don’t want to pay for it, and dislike illegal immigration, unless, in Whitman’s case, the immigrants are working for her.
Opposing Whitman and Fiorina are two of the most liberal politicians in the United States. Jerry Brown is California’s Attorney General. He served two terms as governor from1975 through 1983 and was twice elected mayor of Oakland. His platform stresses job creation, education, and prompt action on California’s chaotic budget and finances. Barbara Boxer has established a record that is well to the left of her Senate colleagues. Her campaign stresses key liberal issues and constituencies. Boxer even got an endorsement from the normally Republican VFW PAC for her work with veterans.
How did this happen?
Late campaign leads like those in the LA Times poll are generally insurmountable short of massive election fraud or a candidate violating the Edwards Law. The former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards said of his 1983 opponent, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”
California’s economic depression is the key campaign issue. The official state unemployment rate is 12.4%. When you add those who’ve simply given up looking for a job plus the marginally employed, the figure for the state is over 20%. Official unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley, a huge agribusiness region, ranges from 15% to 19%. Long the economic engine for the nation, the state is not accustomed to hard times.
The unemployed need work not promises, foreclosure relief not political rhetoric, and look to someone who shares their concerns. The LA Times/USC poll asked respondents to name the candidate who, “Understands the problems and concerns of people like me.” Brown was named by 48% with Whitman at 30%; Boxer by 43%, while Fiorina does somewhat better than Whitman at 34%. Whitman’s self funding of over $100 million to her campaign and Fiorina’s callous disregard for American workers are hardly endearing traits to the electorate.
The growing Latino community is playing a pivotal role in this process. In 2006, millions of California Latinos showed up to protest federal legislation that would have made it a felony to simply know of and fail to report an illegal alien. The focus of the demonstrations and crowd size had not been seen in this country for decades.
In September, Meg Whitman’s former housekeeper, Nicky Diaz, an undocumented immigrant, surfaced to tell the story of her employment and termination by Ms. Whitman. Diaz said of the termination, “I felt like she was throwing me away like a piece of garbage.” By the current survey, Whitman’s favorability rating among Latinos is a meager 22%. Her unfavorable rating climbed to 52%. Fiorina is upside down on this Latino rating as well with 21% favorable and 34% unfavorable.
President Obama’s popularity in California is another factor to consider. This chart of survey results shows the president with a net 5 points positive approval rating among whites and 50 points positive among the critical Latino community. This can only help the Democrats, who like their opponents, have negative net approval ratings among whites. (Data from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Oct 13-20, 2010)
In addition, independents are strongly in favor of both Democratic candidates. Brown comes in at 61% to Whitman’s 24%. Boxer beats Fiorina by 58% to 26%.
But none of these explanations fit nearly as well numerically as the heathen hypothesis.
People who “never attend church” will elect the next Governor and Senator
There are 1501 respondents in the sample for this variable – “How often do you attend church?” If you take the sample and create a running total starting with “More than once a week”, by the time you get “Monthly or less”, total of all church goers are split as follows. Brown is up only 27.75% to 27.05% over Whitman, a virtual dead heat. Boxer trails Fiorina by 2.5 points, 29% to 31.5%.
But when those who “Never” attend church are added to the running total, a miracle of sorts takes place. Brown ends up pulling ahead with a sizable 12% lead and Boxer surges to an 8% advantage. These margins are the same as those cited by the LA Times article on the poll.
We had to go 274 pages into the details of the poll to find out who the new powerbrokers are in California politics. Let’s assume that those who “Never” go to church are secular humanists and who are sick and tired of little to nothing accomplished to relieve the depression-like conditions. I may be wrong, but regardless of the accuracy of the heathen hypothesis, there’s a certain poetic justice, a conceit, so to speak, commenting on the tedium of religion in politics over the last few decades.
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