Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Field Work

The California governor's race has been a weird one this time around, weird and disappointing. While gazillionaire Meg Whitman has been omnipresent on television since she announced her candidacy, Jerry Brown has been practically invisible. She has spent millions of her own money to make certain people see her at least a dozen times a day. Jerry Brown doesn't have millions, either of his own money or from campaign donors, so he's held off on such expenditures. The Republican should be light years ahead at this point, but polls suggest a dead heat. Like I said, it's been a weird campaign season so far.

Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect has been a guest columnist this summer for the Los Angeles Times and in today's column suggests why Jerry Brown has been able to hold his own so far.

...Brown has been no more than intermittently visible this year, husbanding his limited funds for an autumnal media blitz. Meg Whitman, by contrast, has bought into every media market known to humankind. By the normal rules of politics, she should have opened a lead on the late-starting Brown. But by the measure of almost every poll, she hasn't.

Part of the reason for that is California's union movement, which has put up ads and begun its field program earlier than ever this year to counter Whitman's spending advantage. As Seema Mehta reported in Monday's Times, labor has already spent $14 million on advertising and getting its ground game in place.
[Emphasis added]

While the advertising spending is important, more important has been the field work which the unions have done in an attempt to get blue collar workers to the polls for an election which traditionally gets ignored by too many voters.

The conventional wisdom on midterm elections is that turnout is always going to be low. State Democrats, however, are confident they can change that, chiefly because California is home to the most politically potent labor movement in the nation, with a strong record of turning out Latino voters for Democratic candidates and causes. Since the mid-'90s, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the SEIU have excelled at getting Latino voters to the polls. This year, they are funding ads in the Spanish-language media assailing what they term Whitman's "two-faced" position on immigration — her hard-line position during the Republican primary and her more sunny rhetoric since. On this key issue, they assert, she cannot be trusted. They are carrying that message door to door in Latino neighborhoods throughout the state. [Emphasis added]

It's been a rough year for labor all across the nation, with lock-outs, lay-offs, and dismissals even by companies showing profits. It's been particularly rough in California where unemployment continues above 10% statewide. Complicating the picture here has been a Republican governor who has been using and abusing state employees with furloughs, pay cuts, and the threat of federal minimum wages being imposed to extort retirement concessions so that he can balance the budget on their backs rather than raise taxes on the wealthiest of citizens. I would hope that the unions are also taking that message to the blue collar workers of all ethnicities as well.

Now, if we can just wake Jerry Brown up ...

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