Money: The Mother’s Milk of California Politics

Milking a Cow
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If Tom Campbell had deep pockets, he might be looking down on his opponents today instead of up. Less than a week before the June 8 primary election, the candidate for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate withdrew all of his television ads because of a lack of funds. 

Campbell spun his disaster the best he could, saying that the remainder of his efforts would be direct appeals to the voters through telephone town hall meetings and Internet exposure.  Sounds good, except that even in wired world, candidates still dedicate 85 percent of their campaign funds to television commercial for one simple reason: they work, especially on voters who have yet to make up their minds.  

In Campbell's case, he simply couldn't keep up with the resources of Carly Fiorina, who has dumped nearly $6 million of her own money into her Senatorial bid.  That amount is larger than all the funds raised by Campbell and fellow candidate Chuck DeVore combined.  The effort has been rewarding for Fiorina, who leads Campbell by 15 percent with less than a week to go, according to recent polls. 

The irony is that while Fiorina is ahead of Campbell in the primary vote, polls show that Campbell is the only one of the three Republicans who is running ahead of Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer in a hypothetical November head-to-head match-up.  So, like so many times in the past, Republicans are on the verge of leaving their most attractive candidate in the dust.

This isn't Campbell's first tussle with largely self-funded campaigns.  Initially a candidate for governor, he repositioned himself four months ago to enter the Senate race after recognizing the impossibility of overcoming the huge financial advantages of Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner.  Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, has dumped a record $70 million into her campaign. Meanwhile Poizner, a GPS system entrepreneur who sold his company for more than a billion dollars, has seemed the poor relative by spending only $23 million of his money.  As one who has dedicated his entire adult life to public service, Campbell has no such resources.

None of this is to suggest that Campbell's message is as good or better than those of his opponents.  But in 21st Century California, increasingly there seems to be two categories of candidates -- those who can pay their own way and those who rely on the kindness of others. If you don't have the means to make your case, you'll never know how good or bad it is.

All of which reminds us of the words offered by the late Jess Unruh, California's notoriously powerful Speaker of the State Assembly, who once described money as the "mother's milk of politics."  If milk is the equivalent of political currency, those who own dairies are more likely to succeed than those waiting for handouts at food banks. 

Just ask Tom Campbell.

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