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

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 12, 2009; A02

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.

But the depth of the Republican recruiting class this cycle is a reminder of how dependent recruiting is on the overall national environment. With George W. Bush in the polling doldrums in 2006 and 2008, Democrats recruited talented slates of candidates -- which helped get them the majority in 2006 and 60 seats in 2008.

Here's a look at the five Senate seats most likely to switch party control next fall:

5. Missouri (Republican-controlled): We debated and debated whether Missouri or Ohio is the better pickup opportunity for Democrats. The Democratic field in Missouri -- Carnahan -- is stronger than the Democratic field in Ohio, but the Show Me State has a slightly stronger Republican tilt, if the 2008 presidential election results are an indication. Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt (R) has bounced back nicely from a shaky first few months as a candidate, but Carnahan is the best candidate Democrats could hope for and has "star" written all over her.

4. Ohio (R): The third fundraising quarter, which ended Sept. 30, is Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's last chance to prove she is a credible alternative to Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in the Democratic race. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that neither candidate is well known and that if Brunner could put together real money she could be competitive with Fisher. On the Republican side, Portman faces a challenge from free-spending auto dealer Tom Ganley but is a heavy favorite for the nod.

3. Nevada (Democratic-controlled): Former state Republican Party chairman Sue Lowden is not the strongest candidate the party could have fielded against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) -- that would have been Rep. Dean Heller (R) -- but she may be just strong enough. Lowden has money -- she and her husband once owned the Sahara hotel and casino -- and is putting together a solid team of advisers. Reid is badly damaged goods in the eyes of Nevada voters.

2. Connecticut (D): The Republican primary for the right to challenge Sen. Chris Dodd (D) got far more interesting when World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive Linda McMahon decided to run. McMahon immediately began a television blitz across the state that made it clear she would spend heavily from her own pocket to be competitive. The Republican primary looks like a two-way fight between former congressman Rob Simmons and former ambassador Tom Foley, but it's impossible to discount the effect McMahon's millions -- if spent strategically -- can have. Either will have a very strong chance to defeat Dodd, who has been badly wounded by his association with Countrywide Financial, among other things.

1. Delaware (D): There hasn't been any reliable polling on this race, but everyone we talk to says Castle starts as the front-runner because of his long service to the First State and his reputation as a reasonable moderate. While it's still likely that Beau Biden will run, until he makes that announcement we will remain skeptical. If Biden is in, this race looks better for his party because of the state's strong Democratic tendencies and the name recognition that the vice president's son would bring to the race.

Players

Guy Cecil, political and field director for then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, has signed on to serve as chief of staff to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). "Guy's strong work ethic, leadership abilities and strategic thinking will be a real asset," Bennet said. Cecil's real value to Bennet, however, is his political know-how. Bennet faces a primary challenge from former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff, and former lieutenant governor Jane Norton (R) is waiting in the general election.

TODAY: Former Virginia attorney general Bob McDonnell (R) and state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) debate in Richmond with just 22 days left in the commonwealth's gubernatorial race.

4 DAYS: Gov. Jon Corzine (D), former U.S. attorney Chris Christie (R) and independent candidate Chris Daggett debate at William Paterson University with 18 days left in the New Jersey governor's race.

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