Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lessons from Benicia City Council race


There was an election for the Benicia (CA) City Council this past November. It gives a good lesson in current politics. First, I should point out that Benicia is the home to the Valero Refinery and also that it still has some outlying areas for new home developments.

Valero Refining Company gave $35,000 to a group euphemistically called "Coalition for Responsible Government" (meaning, it seems, responsible to corporate interests). West Coast Homebuilders, owned by developer Albert Seeno, gave the same group $15,000.

Between Nov. 2 and Nov. 7, the group spent $31,000 on fliers, phone calls, and signs supporting two "pro-growth, corporate" candidates and $13,000 opposing the "slow-growth, people-oriented" candidate.

Note that most of the money was spent in the last week before the election. As posters here have pointed out, it is the advertising and push right before the election that has the most effect. In Pombo's case, this will be TV and radio ads, as well as those fliers that always picture him as "Mr. Greenjeans". Political consultants know that most voters generally don't pay attention until just before the election, and that they can be easily influenced by a big push at that time.

So the two pro-corporate candidates had lots of money (for a small city race) due to their support from an oil/gas company and a developer. The corporate-sponsored group used the money to promote their candidates and beat up on the one they did not like.

Of course, those two won, and the other guy lost.

I am mentioning this here not to criticize Benicia (actually a very nice small town), but as a microcosm of the Pombo race. Big oil/gas/development money has been pouring into Pombo's coffers, there will be a "just before the election" push to hammer Filson or McNerney, and to make Pombo look like "Mr. Good Guy/Mr. Security/Mr. Green", and if nothing has been done on the Dem side to counter this or reframe Pombo before the crucial last week, the voters will dutifully march into the polling booth and vote for the image of Pombo conjured up by the corporate advertising dollars.


Anonymous Used-to-be-anon said...

That's the worst thing about politics these days, like it or not, the money must flow or you don't stand a chance. In some rare cases it dosen't work, but lets be honest, put enought ads on TV and radio and you will do well.

I actually read a damn good idea for campaign finance reform in the Washington Monthly by Carville and Begala. Check it out, it was a fresh idea, one that I believe could help progressives win elections.

I think one thing that may help Democrats this time around is McCloskey. He may force Pombo to spend some valuable time and resources before the primary making the last media media barrage a little lighter.

10:57 AM, February 12, 2006  
Blogger Brad said...

used-to-be-anon said: "I think one thing that may help Democrats this time around is McCloskey. He may force Pombo to spend some valuable time and resources before the primary making the last media media barrage a little lighter."

No doubt McCloskey will force Pombo to spend much more than he otherwise would have in an unopposed Republican primary. However, I bet that Pombo gets by McCloskey and still has at least double the cash of his democratic challenger. Probably more.

McCloskey’s main contribution might well be that he opens some eyes to just how bad Pombo really is. Pombo will frame McCloskey as anachronistic and not a real Republican. Perhaps some Republicans will listen to McCloskey and be open to similar arguments when put forward by a moderate Dem in the general.

Dare to dream...

7:26 PM, February 12, 2006  
Anonymous sasha said...

One thing that we have started to realize in San Francisco (where we do a lot of door-to-door work) is that people are making up their minds earlier and earlier. The ease of absentee voting has made it such that a fairly large percentage of folks have already voted by the last week before the election.

So a big money push the last week or so can oush someone over the edge, but we're finding that there is a huge amount of work to be done before that.

7:58 PM, February 12, 2006  
Anonymous Rick said...

This false dichotomy of “pro-growth, corporate” versus “slow growth, people-oriented” is instructive of the mindsets that dominate quixotic and doomed campaigns.

The knee-jerk vilification of legitimate business activities is mindlessly dumb, particularly since it stands a good chance of alienating voters who are employed in these sectors or find them to be of great value (e.g., new home buyers).

Furthermore, to dismiss any candidate who receives business support as a corporate tool is idiotic on multiple levels. Like it or not, business is the back bone of this nation. To think that one can run a winning campaign without gaining the support of at least some segment of the business community is incredibly naïve. Moreover, if a candidate can’t get any significant amount of dollars or endorsements from the business community, he or she has no business (no pun intended) running for elected office in the first place.

Since the details are vague about this particular election, it’s difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions about what was the deciding factor that determined the outcome (i.e., candidate quality, money, issues, etc.). But it’s been my observation that candidates who decry business or try to label their opponents as “pro-corporate” invariably lose because this type of message simply doesn’t have any type of traction with the average voter.

8:13 PM, February 13, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...


I think you're reading too much into VPO's post.

9:42 PM, February 13, 2006  

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