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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

CA: Whitman Wealth

According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), Whitman has, since June, run 32,000 TV ads across the state at a cost of $21 million. Brown has run no spots, but he's been aided by independent groups that have spent $9 million on some 4,000 ads. He's expected to start running spots soon after Labor Day.

Evan Tracey, president of CMAG, says Whitman's coffers will prove especially useful in the last 30 days of the campaign, when "elections are won or lost," and as the race becomes about attracting the last 8% or 9% of undecided voters.

Her campaign last week started running spots in the Bay Area slamming Brown's tenure as mayor of Oakland. They don't expect to win the heavily liberal region of the state, but the luxury of being able to spend on that kind of effort means she may chip away at Brown's lead there.

"There seems to be a lot of variety in what she is running, and they are doing a good job in mixing it up," Tracey says. "There are so many options competing for people's time, and the political response has been to just turn up the volume. It's just hard to see a scenario where she is overexposed."

In 2008, Barack Obama had to introduce himself to the public and, like Whitman's, his campaign saturated media markets; ad spots were even embedded in videogames. The blitz proved especially fruitful in the final month before the election, when Obama's campaign ran just as many or more negative spots than John McCain's, but it was McCain's campaign that got slammed for being too harsh. That's because Obama also was able to also run a concurrent positive campaign, evoking the message of hope and change, Tracey notes.

The same scenario may hold true for Whitman.

"When you have a lot of money, you don't have to rely on a couple of spots to break through," he says.

The Los Angeles Times reports more broadly on her spending:
"She has the money to do everything," said Garry South, a Democratic consultant who ran Gray Davis' campaigns for governor, "and she is doing everything."

"We're doing things much more aggressively than they've ever been done before," said spokesman Tucker Bounds. "The frequency of the activity and the size of the political organization is an enormous investment, but we believe it will pay off on election day."

Democratic consultant Darry Sragow said a typical candidate might spend $300,000 on polling in the primary and a like sum in the general election. Whitman's figures suggest a sharply different strategy than anything seen before.

"They know as much as anybody could know about the mind-set of the California electorate," he said.

Trackers follow Brown with smart phones that can send live video of him to a "war room," where aides launch responses before a Brown event ends. Consultants have designed two websites, one attacking Brown's record, the other attacking the leadership of one of his biggest backers, the California Nurses Assn.

Apart from those traditional campaign methods, Whitman's effort is relying on newer techniques to try to build loyalty among voters. Borrowing a tactic from other campaigns, including Obama's, Whitman's has taught volunteers how to use their personal computers to make calls to voters and immediately feed information about their intentions back to headquarters.

Data are compiled and used to reach specific segments of the electorate through tele-town halls, for which thousands of likely voters are patched onto a conference call with the candidate. Cable TV viewers watching a Whitman ad are encouraged to push a button on their remote controls if they want Whitman's job creation plan mailed to their homes.

"The idea is to spend vast amounts on technology to chop up the electorate as many ways as possible so you're hitting a Fresno woman making $40,000 to $50,000 a year who cares about education and air quality," said Adam Mendelsohn, a Republican consultant.

The campaign has spent $4.5 million on information technology and Web development, most of which went to Tokoni, a social networking firm run by former EBay associates. Last week Whitman's team unveiled its own iPhone application.

On a recent visit to the campaign's Silicon Valley offices, programmers were working to add Facebook-style flair to Whitman's website: Supporters will have a home page where they can monitor campaign activity, write articles and see which of their local civic and elected leaders have endorsed Whitman. They can also find the location of the closest field office and the phone number of the local precinct leader.