Friday, March 24, 2006

The Next Governor?

Marketing a politician is more difficult than marketing a product. The shelf life for knowledge and experience is short, and the episodic nature of campaigns means that what you learned last time around may have little bearing on the coming election. Also, your competition is hyper-aggressive about highlighting your negatives to the market. Even though business competitors are committed, they often don't end up running ads focused on the negative attributes of the competition.

So it is always with great interest that I follow election cycles. Right here in California, my backyard, we have one of the most exciting and expensive elections of 2006: the race for California Governor. Everyone knows who the current Governor is, and most are aware that his hold on the job is tenuous at best. Approval ratings in the crapper, a legislature emboldened and polarized.

But what most people don't yet know is that we've got an extremely competitive race for the role of challenger. The Democratic primary pits Steve Westly, the California Controller, against Phil Angelides, the Treasurer of the State.

If you live in CA and have a TV without a Tivo, you've probably seen recent commercials from Westly and perhaps Angelides. They are spending millions and it's only March (the primary is in June). What's got me interested is the advertising strategy.

Angelides is positioning himself as the chosen candidate of traditional Democrat power bases, with an on air endorsement by Boxer and support of the CA teachers union. Westly is positioning himself as an innovator and a "different kind of Governor", referencing his experience in building eBay and his remarkable success with a tax amnesty program as Controller where billions of additional tax dollars were collected. He's also spent a lot of time in the commercials sharing biographical information.

Angelides is positioning his candidacy as the favorite of Democratic primary voters and Westly is trying to be an innovative outsider. Which vision will win over the voters? My sense is that Westly will emerge victorious. Voters are sick of Arnold, but they don't want to go back to a traditional pol like Grey Davis either. The hackneyed "I should get your vote because Barbara Boxer thinks so" doesn't fly as well as an approach that educates the population on who you are as a person and what you believe in.

Additionally, Democrats are most concerned with removing the current Governor. Choosing between Westly and Angelides is less important to Democrats. As a result, the primary voters are open to picking the candidate with the best chance of winning in the general election. That candidate is clearly Westly, since he's more of a centrist and less of a liberal nut.

Another big factor: money, the mother's milk of politics. Westly and Angelides are both wealthy and successful fundraisers, but Westly has the cash to keep his ads running straight through to the primary. Angelides has already had to pull back. This spells serious trouble, especially in a primary race that is expected to go negative. Responding to negative ads will be expensive.

So here's my primary prediction: Westly by 4 points. What do you think?

1 comment:

Paminator said...

Probably... Angelides burns up what money he has and can't catch up... Plus, telling a Univision reporter that he didn't know anything about pending imigration legislation probably did him in ...