Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
As Meg Whitman tries to make the transition from underdog to overdog, one of her big challenges is the last wealthy Republican outsider to run for governor of California: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But, for Whitman to win she'll have to explain how she'll be different from Schwarzengger. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that part of the argument Whitman is making is that she'll be tougher than the governor:
Arnold Schwarzenegger was a political newbie and Hollywood star who ran for governor in 2003 as the Sacramento outsider who could "give California back its future." Seven years later, voters are hearing some of the same ad campaign themes from political newcomer Meg Whitman, a Silicon Valley star who's casting herself as an agent of change but also facing criticism that she's "Arnold in a dress."
At a Commonwealth Club event in Lafayette last month, Whitman seemed eager to contrast her management style with Schwarzenegger's - saying the next governor needs to forget "being liked" and needs a "spine of steel" to arrest California's financial slide.
I actually think that the breadth of Schwarzenegger's unpopularity works to Whitman's advantage in some sense. The latest Field Poll placed Schwarzenegger's approval at 23%, including only 28% among Republicans. What that means is that Whitman can actively distance herself from Schwarzenegger without offending her party's base or, for that matter, offending much of anyone.
You could contrast her situation with the predicament John McCain faced in the 2008 presidential election. Most Americans didn't approve of the job President Bush was doing, but most Republicans did. McCain couldn't win moderates without criticizing Bush, but, if he did, he couldn't keep conservatives in line. Whitman won't face that dilemma.
Of course, the best scenario for Whitman would be if she could promise to continue the policies of a popular Republican governor. She won't have that luxury. I do think Schwarzenegger's shadow will be a problem for Whitman, although money can solve a lot of problems.
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