Meg Whitman moves into Democratic territory
on September 14, 2010
Meg Whitman, Republican gubernatorial candidate, has established a campaign office on Lakeshore Avenue. This has turned heads and raised questions about the strategy of establishing a Republican’s campaign headquarters in Oakland, opponent Jerry Brown’s home turf.
Statewide, Whitman is in a dead heat with her Democratic rival, Brown, who was Oakland’s mayor for eight years and still retains considerable favor here. However, the Bay Area—Oakland in particular—has always been staunchly Democratic. As of last June, 135,000 Oakland residents were registered as Democrats, while only 11,870 were registered as Republicans. Despite having spent over $100 million on her campaign, Whitman still trails by 26 percentage points in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a July Field Poll.
Even with the potentialdifficulties facing a Whitman effort in Oakland, the Whitman campaign believes inroads can be made here. Campaign spokesperson Sarah Pompeisaid the candidate isn’t concerned with notions of enemy territory because her platform is meant to appeal to all Californians. “Meg is reaching out to voters across the state in every area,” Pompei said. “It is true that the Bay Area is traditionally a Democratic area, but Meg’s message is something everyone can get behind. It’s about doing what’s best for California.”
Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, announced her candidacy in February, 2009. Her platform includes pledges to cut spending, provide tax relief and create jobs in order to help balance California’s budget. Pompei said the job creation message is one that cuts across partisan lines. “We’ve had very strong support from folks in the Bay Area,” Pompei said. “She wants them to know she is the best candidate to create jobs. It’s something every voter is interested in.”
Though the Bay Area has historically voted for Democratic candidates, Pompei said there’s reason to doubt Brown’s commitment to the average voter. If Brown were elected, Pompei said, the unions that have helped fund Brown’s campaign would be able to call in favors from a “bought and paid for” governor. Whitman, who has spent millions of her own money on the campaign thus far, wouldn’t be beholden to any special interests, said Pompei. “Meg is able to go to Sacramento and doesn’t owe anything to anyone except the voters of California,” she said.
John Wyrwas, chairman of the Alameda County Republican Party, said the Oakland office serves as a hub to connect with voters typically ignored by large campaigns. “They set up an office to try to do some nontraditional campaigning,” Wyrwas said. “We were out at the Chinatown festival and we had all this Chinese literature. Brown’s campaign doesn’t have anything in Chinese.” Wyrwas said the campaign has also reached out to Oakland’s black churches and the African-American community in general.
Whitman’s Oakland campaign office is a modest white building, tucked between a Subway restaurant and an unrented space on Lakeshore Avenue, distinguished only by the “Meg 2010” signs in every window. People passing by often spend an extra minute looking though the window—a Republican headquarters on this block is a curiosity worthy of a double take. Although the Whitman website advertised an event at the Oakland office on Friday, the building remained locked and dark for the duration.
Some Oaklanders have been less receptive to Whitman’s Oakland campaign.One nearby storeowner said she had occasionally seen “X”s and anti-Whitman literature pasted over the signage in the building window. She said the words “Jerry Brown territory” had been scrawled over pro-Whitman signage.
Despite the uphill battle facing the Whitman camp in the Bay Area, some local Democrats are unsettled by the Republican candidate’s strategy. Jess Alexander, an Oakland resident and Brown supporter, said he was worried that work by the new campaign office might actually sway Oakland voters. “It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in the long run,” Alexander said. “Is it a desperate ploy to have an office in Oakland, or is she going to convince a lot of people to get behind her campaign?”
Efforts by Whitman in Oakland have not unsettled her Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown. Sterling Clifford, spokesperson for the campaign, said Brown was confident that Whitman’s efforts in Oakland would be fruitless. “Jerry Brown remains very popular with the people in Oakland,” Clifford said. “Meg Whitman can open an office anywhere she wants.”
Image: Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s office on Lakeshore Avenue.
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