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Meg Whitman's Freedom to Swing

By and large, Republican candidates and their handlers hope that swing voters snooze through the primary season, and don’t notice those ads and speeches attacking intra-party opponents as godless RINOs who want to sell out our priceless heritage of freedom for earmarks and the affection of media elites.  

We’ve certainly had examples this year of Republican candidates (e.g., Rand Paul and Sharron Angle) who’ve forgotten to change gears—and stop grinding their teeth--when transitioning from a primary to a general election audience. 

But you sure can’t accuse California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman of making that mistake. At last weekend’s California State Republican Convention, restive conservatives were complaining that the avenging angel who spent over $80 million tarring primary opponent Steve Poizner as “just another liberal Sacramento politician” had gone into occlusion. But the methodical eMeg didn’t let that bother her in preparing her remarks for the convention. Sure, she blasted Democratic opponent Jerry Brown and the public-sector unions backing him. But her speech contained not a word on abortion, immigration, or the red-hot conservative effort to repeal California’s carbon emissions law. Also unmentioned was the name of her own campaign chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson, whose anti-immigrant politics have made him toxic among California Latino voters.

Ah, but Whitman has an advantage over most Republicans in choosing her general election strategy in this year of conservative vengeance against moderation: her virtually limitless money, which will bankroll not only her own campaign, but the get-out-the-vote efforts crucial to the entire GOP ticket. This has put something of a damper on right-wing demands on the former eBay exec at the Republican confab:

Friday night, minutes after Meg Whitman arrived to cheers from about 60 attendees, some of the most conservative leaders in the state GOP held a press conference questioning her conservative credentials. Former California GOP chairman Michael Schroeder, California Republican Assembly chair Celeste Greig and former CRA chair Mike Spence, among others, held a press conference called on Whitman to essentially “throw conservatives a few crumbs.”

Did Whitman throw them a crumb? Perhaps, but only by way of another omission in her speech. She made it through the entire convention without mentioning the person whom she is succeeding as the Republican nominee for governor.   You know, Arnold what’s-his-name. 

That’s significant, as was indicated by Mike Spence of the arch-conservative California Republican Assembly:

When pressed as to whether the group would support Jerry Brown if Whitman didn’t change her tune Mike Spence said “we do not want to support Jerry Brown, he is the second worst governor in modern history, but we want to support a candidate who offers clear alternatives in line with our conservative principles.” If you are wondering who Spence views as the worst in history he said “Arnold, of course!”

Uniquely in the Republican politics of 2010, Meg Whitman has the freedom to swing towards the center if she wishes, so long as she keeps her checkbook open and meets the easy test of being more orthodox than Arnold Schwarzenneger. Conservatives may grouse and pine for a mighty warrior to smite the anchor babies and the tree-huggers and the abortionists of the Golden State, but they are signed onto eMeg’s wild money-fueled ride, wherever her cold-blooded pollsters take them.