Thursday, September 23, 2010




Some call them nuances. To others, they’re “weasel words.” But there’s no doubt this fall’s California political campaigns have more of them than usual. Which may be one reason both major races in this state are close, with unusually large numbers of undecided voters for this time of the political season.

Normally, the closer an election draws, the more committed voters are to the people for whom they will eventually vote. But not this year. That's because voters can waffle when they feel the people they’ve supported are not really true to things they’ve espoused.

One prominent example is Republican Carly Fiorina, the fired former Hewlett-Packard corporate boss who seeks to unseat three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

In a speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, Fiorina – then an advisor to presidential candidate John McCain – praised the Arizona senator for his sponsorship of a cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, saying it would “create jobs and lower the cost of energy.”

Just two years later, now in her own campaign, Fiorina blasts Boxer for backing precisely the same cap-and-trade proposal, while also lambasting the landmark 2006 California greenhouse gas-cutting law known as AB32 as a “job killer” because it would create a state system for capping emissions and allow companies to trade or sell credits they get for producing fewer gases than they’re allowed.

Fiorina also declared in June and early July that she would never vote to extend unemployment benefits unless federal spending was cut to pay for it. But later that month, she said on a San Francisco radio show that she would have voted for the extension bill that eventually passed – without compensating spending cuts.

These sorts of contradictions may explain why even though Boxer’s approval rate remains below 50 percent, Fiorina has been unable to make significant gains against her since the primary election.

It’s much the same in the run for governor, where Republican Meg Whitman calls Democratic rival Jerry Brown “frugal with the truth.”

Whitman aides delight in going back decades to deride Brown for first opposing the Proposition 13 property tax cuts of 1978 and then enforcing them wholeheartedly. Another Brown inconsistency: While governor he twice vetoed bills with pay raises for state employees, but wound up backing and signing other measures giving them big pay raises and union negotiating rights.

But Whitman may have the largest consistency problems of any candidate now running.

One example is her statement that while she opposed the controversial Arizona anti-illegal immigrant law known as SB1070, she “would let the Arizona law stand for Arizona.”

Huh? She explained this almost unintelligible remark by saying “You gotta let the states do what they gotta do,” adding that “We have a much bigger state with much bigger geography.” The question: What does size have to do with whether police should demand documents from anyone with whom they come in contact that looks to them like a possible illegal immigrant?

There are plenty of other Whitman inconsistencies. During the primary election season, when she was trying furiously to win support from conservative Republicans, she called AB32, the greenhouse gas law, a “dangerous job killer” and urged a suspension.

But later she said she would “probably” vote against the November Proposition 23, whose aim is just such a suspension. Why? Her campaign said that was because she “supports the goals of the bill.”

In the primary, Whitman laced into former opponent Steve Poizner, the state insurance commissioner, for not imposing “cost-saving furloughs” on the Department of Insurance staff. More recently, she’s come out against furloughing state workers.

These contradictions caused Poizner – who ended up endorsing Whitman in an act of party loyalty – to observe that Whitman “needs to crystallize her thinking. She can’t have it both ways on all these issues that are very controversial.”

That may be what many voters feel, too. It probably goes a long way toward explaining why despite spending well over $100 million during the spring and summer, while Brown spent almost nothing, Whitman had not attained much of a lead over him heading into the autumn homestretch.

The big question for all these candidates is where the significant numbers of undecided, independent voters will eventually land. Generally, when a voter switches from the supporting one candidate to being undecided, it’s a step along the path to eventually supporting the competing candidate. But the summertime phenomenon of drift from all sides into the undecideds, likely driven in part by the frequent inconsistencies of the candidates, makes this one of the least predictable elections in recent times.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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