The Monday Fix

The Monday Fix: Meg Whitman's Focused Bid in California

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 12, 2009

Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman's plan for California can be boiled down to one word: focus.

Whitman, one of three candidates seeking the Republican nomination in the California governor's race, argued that her time as the head of eBay -- a tenure that saw the company grow from a few dozen employees into a billion-dollar business -- taught her that the best way to lead is to value a few priorities and never lose sight of them.

While she is loath to criticize the man she is seeking to replace -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) -- it's apparent Whitman believes that a lack of focus on his major priorities is what has hamstrung him. She cites his decision to push four ballot measures in 2005 -- all four of which were defeated by California voters. "If he had done one at a time -- set 'em up, knock 'em down," he would have been more successful, she explained.

Whitman recites three priorities -- job creation, limiting spending and improving education -- incessantly, on the campaign trail and in a recent interview with the Fix. "You have to focus on three things and put all your political will against [those] three things," she said.

For a candidate so committed to staying focused and on message, the past few weeks have been rocky for Whitman. A story in the Sacramento Bee late last month alleging that she had never been registered to vote before 2002 sparked controversy as she sought to explain -- at times poorly -- why a gubernatorial candidate would have such a spotty voting record.

Upon reflection, however, Whitman said she wouldn't have changed anything about the way she and her campaign approached the issue. "I was clear as early as February that my voting record was not perfect," she said. "The Bee story did not square with my research and my recollection."

She added that once the story broke, she tasked her team with crafting a "deliberate" and "thoughtful" response -- waiting nearly two weeks before sending a letter to the Bee earlier this week demanding that the paper "correct the record as soon as possible." (The Bee has written several subsequent stories noting that Whitman was, in fact, registered to vote in San Francisco in 1982 and in Santa Clara County in 1999.)

Voters seem unaffected by the controversy. A recent Field poll showed Whitman leading the Republican field with 22 percent, followed by former congressman Tom Campbell at 20 percent and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner at 9 percent.

Regardless of campaign ups and downs, Whitman asserted that she is keeping her eye on the bigger goal -- winning the GOP nod and moving into the general election to face either Attorney General Jerry Brown or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. "Being governor of California is the ultimate test of leadership and conviction," she said. "You have to have a strategy and execute against it."

Senate Shake-Ups?

Republicans scored a major recruiting victory last week when Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) announced he would run in 2010 for the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Biden. Castle was regarded by strategists of both parties as the only Republican candidate who could make Democratic-leaning Delaware competitive. And with Castle in the race, it will surely give state Attorney General Beau Biden (D) at least some pause about what had been seen as a sure-thing candidacy.

Castle is the latest Senate recruitment success for Republicans -- joining Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.), former New Hampshire attorney general Kelly Ayotte, former Colorado lieutenant governor Jane Norton and former Ohio congressman Rob Portman in the best recruiting class for Republicans since at least 2002.

Democrats have had their share of recruiting success as well, with Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Rep. Charlie Melancon (La.) and Rep. Paul Hodes (N.H.) all running for Senate seats.

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