Why did Meg Whitman emerge as the Republican gubernatorial nominee? The easy answer is to say: there are more than 80 million reasons (the record number of dollars spent by her big-spending campaign). But of those 80 million, what are the top 5?
5. Tom Campbell. The former Congressman left the race for governor to run for U.S. Senate. If Campbell had stayed in, he might well have taken votes away from Whitman, allowing Steve Poizner to win. Or Campbell might have emerged as the winner himself as Whitman and Poizner bloodied each other. Now we'll never know.
4. Her handling of the Arizona law. Whitman suffered in the polls short-term for refusing to back the Arizona law even as her rival Poizner focused so much of his campaign on support for the issue one wondered if he was planning a move to Phoenix. Whitman hit back hard by emphasizing she opposed so-called amnesty for unauthorized immigrants and by raising questions about Poizner's relatively recent conversion to being tough on immigrants. Once Whitman dealt with this issue, her race was over.
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3. The media. California reporters and bloggers have been, mostly unwittingly, enormous allies of Whitman and her campaign. Whitman seems to detest exchanges with journalists and has kept her distance from them. In turn, media outlets have complained for months about her dodging questions. These complaints did Whitman a great service by lowering expectations for her performances in public venues (where she is an underwhelming speaker. Whitman's speeches and debate performances proved to be mediocre at best--but after months of hearing media suggest she had no idea what she was doing, mediocre was plenty good enough to beat expectations.
2. An early start. The governor's race started in 2008 -- far too soon for voters to pay attention. But the early start worked to Whitman's advantage in two ways. It gave her time to build an organization and learn something about the issues. And it made the costs of a campaign higher -- at a time when the recession was making it harder to raise money. In a long and costly campaign, Whitman's limitless personal wealth was even more of an advantage than it might have been.
1. Money. Money. Money. It wasn't merely that Whitman could blanket the airwaves with ads. Cash allowed her to field a huge campaign organization, including a rapid response unit. And it provided her with a huge competitive advantage in the internal contest for the best staff and endorsements. Money can't buy you love. But it sure comes in handy when you need political loyalty.