Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman had planned for the Republican state convention to be a triumphant kickoff to her campaign for governor-but it turned into a big-play fumble instead.
Leading the pack in pursuit of the 2010 GOP nomination, front-runner Whitman suffered a major blow two days before the recent convention, when the Sacramento Bee published an investigative story detailing her failure to register to vote until 2002, let alone cast a ballot, and reporting that she did not become a Republican until 2007. Whitman had previously acknowledged in a general way that she had a spotty voting record, but the timing of the devil-in-the-details disclosure that she apparently did not participate in the electoral system until she was in her late forties was a major embarrassment for a rookie politician seeking one of the most powerful and important elected positions in the nation.
Whitman this week belatedly attacked the Bee-11 days after the story appeared-for allegedly having a political agenda, but her clumsy handling of the controversy had already self-inflicted damage to her campaign. Questions about the issue dominated the Republican convention, held in Indian Wells; she made matters worse with a deer-in-the-headlights press conference performance, where she robotically repeated a pro forma apology to a pack of reporters in full bay demanding a fuller explanation. In the days since, comments by her and her handlers, including repeated clarifications and claims, raised further questions about how honest they were being in addressing the issue; these left her wide open to slashing attacks by chief rival Steve Poizner, the state’s insurance commissioner, who posted a detailed narrative (tinyurl.com/y85tawr) of her shifting statements, along with a batch of YouTube videos using her own words to question her integrity.
“Meg Whitman’s different stories on her non-voting record have raised serious concerns as to what is true and what is deception,” said Poizner spokesperson Jarrod Agen.
As a political matter, Whitman has plenty of time to recover, with eight months to go before the primary, and it is unclear whether ordinary voters will care as much as the political cognoscenti about her voting record. Two fallout factors from the episode pose continued risk to her campaign, however. For one thing, she told hundreds of party activists in a major speech in February that she was a longtime Republican and had been registered to vote in 1998, two claims that the Bee story knocked down and that may cause concern among the party’s hardcore base.
Secondly, the eBay billionaire’s laissez faire attitude about the most basic duty of citizenship could feed the perception that eMeg has a sense of entitlement, not to mention disdain for the democratic process.
She didn’t help herself when she inexplicably claimed to Bee reporter Andrew McIntosh, who wrote the expose, that she had registered as a Republican in the 1990s. When he asked her where he might find documentation for the registration, she airily answered, “Go find it,” an imperious response that became an instant classic quote in campaign lore.
“Voting is a precious right that all Americans should exercise,” Whitman said in a campaign-issued mea culpa that sought to put the matter to rest. “I have repeatedly said that my voting record is inexcusable. I failed to register and vote on numerous occasions throughout my life. That is simply wrong and I have taken responsibility for my mistake.”
JERRY JUMPS IN: The low-profile Democratic race for governor, meanwhile, gained visibility this week, with two L.A. appearances by former president Clinton on behalf of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Attorney General Jerry Brown also announced that he’s filed the formal papers to raise money for the race, a move quickly followed by news that DreamWorks founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen will cohost a Hollywood gala campaign kickoff for him next month.
FUN FUNDRAISER: The Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties will host their annual Politics, Sex & Cocktails fundraiser (gee, if only they’d included baseball, they’d have a clean sweep on all the things that make life worth living) on Sunday, October 11, at the Montecito Country Club, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The headliner is journalist and author Michelle Goldberg, whose latest book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, argues that the emancipation of women in countries around the world is the century’s most crucial human rights struggle. Get more information at actionfundppsbvslo.org.