Whitman's Character Card Might Trump It All

The 2010 campaign for California's governor has taken yet another sharp turn.

Suddenly,  critical issues like a record-setting overdue budget, a woeful economy, and an underfunded, dysfunctional public education system have taken a back seat to character. This time the focus is on Meg Whitman, who despite a well-manicured and carefully orchestrated campaign, finds herself in the throes of an issue her money can't fix and she can't control.

The facts are simple enough: Whitman and her husband employed an illegal immigrant for the better part of a decade. According to a recently released IRS form, Whitman's husband and perhaps Whitman were aware of problems relating to the employee's immigration status.

From there the issues descend to finger-pointing between Whitman and the former employee as to how much Whitman knew and when.

For Whitman, the timing couldn't be worse.

Whitman has worked hard to win over the Latino vote. Now she's in the throes of the thorny immigration issue--something she hoped was behind her in the stretch run. Still, the question emerges, "If you're so much against illegal immigration, how could you knowingly employ an illegal immigrant? Does this not smell of hypocrisy?" 

Ouch. That's a no-win situation, whatever the answer.

This leads to a potentially more serious problem for Whitman - character. That's because the immigration issue comes as a successor to recent public relations gaffes regarding a false campaign ad, a physical altercation with a former employee, and distortions about delays in relocating eBay, her former company. Any one of these could easily be dismissed as a faux
pax. Combined, they well may give some people, especially those on the fence, reason to pause.

For his part, Jerry Brown shouldn't get too excited. Character concerns can be fleeting in politics, especially with the press of so many weighty problems in this election season. In fact, all one has to do is look back to 2003, when in the waning days of the campaign, undisputed stories emerged in the press about Arnold Schwarzenegger groping more than a
dozen women over a 25-year period. Schwarzenegger had the last laugh with a convincing victory at the polls.

With so many concerns before the voters, character may not be the deciding factor in this election. Still, for Meg Whitman, it's an issue she'd rather do without in these precious last days of what's becoming an ugly campaign.   

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