Tales from the Trail

In California, no voting bloc is safe

July 16, 2010

First Republican Meg Whitman, a political novice running for California governor, seemed to catch her Democratic opponent, MegJerry Brown, napping with an aggressive early push for Latino voters –  a voting bloc that has proven tough for her party to crack.  

Whitman has run a series of Spanish-language TV commercials and billboards that, according to the latest p0lls, paid off with a 14-point gain among Latinos – despite the still simmering furor over a crackdown on illegal immigrants in neighborhing Arizona that was signed into law by Republican  Governor Jan Brewer.

Brown, the state’s attorney general and a veteran California politician who served as California governor from 1975 to 1983, has been criticized within his party for being slow to respond and taking the Latino vote for granted. 

 Brown counters that the November election is still more than three months away  and points out that, as a man who marched with Cesar Chavez during the 1970s, his credentials with that constituency are well established.

Now Whitman, a billionaire former eBay CEO who is largely bankrolling her own campaign, is going after another group of voters that Brown might have considering safely in his corner:  the nurses.

California’s public employee unions, including the California Nurses Association, are the most powerful special interest groups in the state and carry unmatched influence over the Democratic party.  And Brown, at a distinct fundraising disadvantage to the wealthy Whitman in a race on track to be the most expensive nonpresidential election in U.S. history, is counting heavily on support from those unions.

But Whitman has been reaching out to rank-and-file nurses,  setting up a web site called Truth for Nurses to reach them directly which explains her support of nurse-to-patient ratios and trumpeting a poll that says nurses — like the rest of California’s electorate — actually spilit almost evenly between her and those who support her and Brown.

The CNA  has quickly come out swinging in response, sending some 1,000 nurses to Whitman’s home in the San Francisco suburb of Atherton on Friday for a boisterous demonstration that, according to local news reports, included a skit featuring an actress playing “Queen Meg,” complete with royal garb and a crown.

California is considered a reliably Democratic state,  but both parties are keeping an eye on the governor’s race as a bellwether in a year when the still-sagging economy has left Democrats and incumbents vulnerable.  And whoever wins in November will inherit a state burndened by double-digit unemployment a budget tens of billions of dollars in the red and a profoundly unpopular, polarized legislature.

Brown is right that its still summer in California,  and the November election is still months off. But, but like the weather in Southern California, the race is already getting hotter.

Photo credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson (Meg Whitman June 8)

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