Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How will the housekeeper scandal affect Whitman?

 The California Governorship is one of those races where the leader keeps changing. In early 2009, former Governor Jerry Brown (D) led former ebay CEO Meg Whitman (R) by double digits. In late 2009 when she started spending her money in the primary, she strongly cut Brown's lead and the lead stayed that way throughout early 2010. Close to the June 8th primary though, Brown pulled ahead again by a few points. His lead of about 5 points stayed intact throughout most of the summer until August came along. I have frequently mentioned in other posts that August is a bad month for Democrats. This fact was no exception for Brown who saw Whitman's $104 million at that time work on voters. In early September, Whitman was leading but that was before Brown decided to campaign. Before September, Brown had barely campaigned. A month ago, I was seeing Brown become the next Phil Angelides (D) who ran against Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in 2006. Angelides barely campaigned at all and lost by 17 points.

Fortunately, Brown realized he could not become the next Angelides so he began to campaign. He ran ads like a funny one with Meg Whitman's nose growing longer after he clearly showed how she lied. These ads helped him get a lead of 5 points and in the last week, the outlook is getting better and better for Brown. In a debate last week, Whitman appeared over rehearsed while Brown was personable but also knew his issues. Unless a candidate makes a major gaffe in a debate, bounces from debates do not last forever. I expected Brown to continue to have a five point lead. This was before the housekeeper Nicky Diaz Santiallo came onto the scene. Whitman was discovered firing her undocumented housekeeper who was like family for nine years. The news story is everywhere and if you are in California, I do not know how you have NOT heard about it. It makes Whitman hypocritical when she said people need to crack on illegal immigrants. The media is saying how dangerous the story is for Whitman because it will send Hispanics flying away from her. My question is, will it hurt her with everyone?

One group it will certainly hurt Whitman with is Hispanics. Before the scandal broke, Whitman was poised to make strong inroads among Hispanics. She has been courting this group and many polls showed Brown leading because he was pulling it close with whites and not because of margins among Hispanics. Whitman said she treated Santiallo like part of her family until Whitman learned that Santiallo was undocumented. Then Whitman fired her and tore herself away from Santiallo. Many Hispanics found Whitman unsympathetic and I know someone who told me "I have a Hispanic friend who generally votes Republican but after the housekeeper scandal, she is fully behind Brown." Now that Whitman lost her inroads among Hispanics, what normally Democratic group can Whitman win now? Winning middle class whites in the Central Valley/Inland Empire is not enough to win.

No one has mentioned this but the housekeeper scandal can give Whitman an opening with one group. She could pick up upper class white voters who may feel the same way she does with hiring undocumented immigrants. Many of them may have Hispanic housekeepers and worry that they could be undocumented. Also, upper class white voters may feel worried they will hire undocumented workers s so they understand how Whitman feels. Whitman cannot use this issue to make inroads among all white voters because many of the liberals will dislike Whitman's firing of Santiallo. The more moderate whites Whitman could try to pick up are the upper class white voters in the southern Bay Area, Santa Barbara and the LA coast south of Venice. Still, whatever gains Whitman makes among these voters will be offset by Hispanic losses. If Whitman wants to win though, she has to take control of the issue and try to appeal to upper class white moderates.

Another group that will be affected by the housekeeper scandal is the teabagger supporting middle class whites in Inland California. Some of them may hire housekeepers but most of the voters want undocumented immigrants to leave and they will be unable to help contribute to the economy and take jobs no one else wants in California. Some of those voters will see Whitman as not tough enough on Santiallo while many of the Hispanics will. The Inland conservatives may think that once Whitman knew Santiallo was illegal, Whitman should have called the Border Patrol in 2009 or in 2003 when her husband received the letter. Still, will this story sway voters because are the Inland conservatives going to vote for Brown? Now with Jill Armstrong, Whitman's ex-nanny backing up Santiallo, the story should stay for a longer time. With the story still dominating the headlines, it may convince those conservatives to leave the Governor's race blank. Whitman cannot win without the big conservative turnout in the Central Valley (for more info on where Whitman needs to win, check my post California Baselines )

Overall, the housekeeper scandal is definitely affecting Whitman with every demographic. More Hispanic voters dislike her, richer whites may understand her and the Inland conservatives are less enthusiastic about her. Still, many pundits are overestimating the damage of the story. Unless the story gets very large, the Inland conservatives will probably not sit out the election as a protest vote. Yes, the story will move Hispanics toward Brown but it might shift a few rich white voters who associate Brown with the unions and see identifying with Whitman on the immigration issue as the final reason to move toward her. Overall, this story definitely hurts Whitman but not as much as the pundits say, unless the story grows and stays.

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