The backgrounds of this year’s California gubernatorial candidates will play prominent roles — both good and bad — in the election, as discussed by panelists at the first Students Talk Back session, a weekly event hosted by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, on Tuesday
Panelists, including Chief Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles Jay Carson, who was formerly a senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, and Matt Klink, executive vice president of Cerrell Associates, an independent public relations firm, discussed the ongoing election campaigns run by gubernatorial candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman.
Jonathan Brebner, president of the USC College Democrats, and Emily Schrader, from the USC College Republicans, were also on the panel.
Carson said the candidate most likely to win the election would be the one who succeeds in convincing California voters that he or she is the most capable of solving the state’s current fiscal crisis.
“This is an election where California voters, whether they can debate about the economy or not, [they] know we’re in trouble. Voters are very, very smart,” Carson said. “The one who will win this election is the one who can best sell himself or herself as the one who can fix this situation.”
Some of the panelists also agreed that both candidates must distance themselves from the negative aspects associated with their backgrounds: Brown’s long-term tenure in politics and Whitman’s career as the chief executive officer of a large corporation.
“Both of the candidates are too far on one pole or the other,” Carson said. “One has spent their entire career in a system that is broken, one has spent no time in it at all. Their actual bios are tough to sell in this election.”
Brebner agreed the candidates need to build campaigns that steer away from their backgrounds.
“They come from two very different backgrounds. [Whitman] has decades of public service, and there’s a mood against high-level corporate types, and Brown will have to disassociate himself from being a political insider,” Brebner said.
Schrader, however, argued that Whitman’s background is not necessarily a point against the former eBay CEO.
“Yes, it can be a disadvantage to be a big, rich CEO,” Schrader said. “But [CEOs are] not to blame for the unemployment rates. She has a lot of experience creating jobs.”
Klink said he believed that criticism of Whitman’s excessive campaign spending was unnecessary.
“Meg Whitman is doing what she needs to do as the proverbial outsider,” Klink said. “If she didn’t have her personal resources, she would have lost in the primary elections.”
The panelists also spent time discussing the merits of both campaigns — or lack thereof.
“I think that the Brown campaign has been a bit slow out of the gate,” Carson said. “It’s like a boxing match. If you start to exert energy right away … you’re getting hit longer, you lose more energy. With limited resources [like Brown], you have to know when to start throwing punches.”
Brebner said he is confused about Brown’s campaign strategy, but remains hopeful for the candidate.
“It’s been rather frustrating. I’m not sure if it’s a purposeful strategy or if he’s waiting for another round. [Whitman has] been saturating the airwaves with ads since the primaries,” Brebner said. “It’s remarkable that against a $100-million campaign; he’s only behind by a couple of points.”
Alexa Ekman, former president of the USC College Republicans, said she found the panel enlightening, though she was disappointed by the areas discussed.
“There was more emphasis on their careers,” Ekman said. “But no one’s giving any attention to the fact that [Whitman] could be the first female governor.”
The panel was moderated by Dan Schnur, chair of the California Fair Political Practice Committee, and Kate Mather, editor in chief of the Daily Trojan.