Jerry Brown, the Democrat running for governor of California, is drawing more support from women than Republican Meg Whitman even as a recording of an aide calling her a “whore” hangs over their final scheduled debate.
Brown led Whitman among likely women voters 47 percent to 37 percent in the latest Rasmussen Reports poll Oct. 3, up from a virtual tie, 45 percent-44 percent, on Sept. 20. The results came after Whitman was accused of employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper, though before the Los Angeles Times published the “whore” recording Oct. 8.
Whitman, 54, the former EBay Inc. chief executive officer, has spent $119 million of her own fortune, a U.S. record by a self-funded candidate, as she battles Brown, 72, to run the state with the most people and the biggest economy in the nation. The two are to appear in a debate tonight moderated by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.
“Brown supporters will stay with Brown, Whitman supporters will be somewhat outraged and continue supporting Whitman,” said Ann Crigler, a professor of politics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
The recorded slur won’t change Brown’s standing with women voters since Brown himself didn’t say it, Crigler said in a telephone interview.
Brown, California’s governor for two terms, from 1975 to 1983, and now attorney general, was inadvertently recorded by voicemail after leaving a message for a Los Angeles police union official. In a conversation about a potential advertisement over pension issues, an aide says, “What about saying she’s a whore?” according to the Times.
“The use of the term ‘whore’ is an insult to both Meg Whitman and to the women of California,” Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said in an Oct. 7 statement. “This is an appalling and unforgivable smear.” The release of the recording prompted an apology from the Brown campaign.
Sterling Clifford, a Brown spokesman, said the candidate didn’t make the comment. In an interview, Clifford demurred from naming the aide.
If the comment is raised at tonight’s debate at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, he said, the campaign has already expressed regret “and I don’t think we’ll go much beyond that.”
Whitman spokesman Darrel Ng declined to comment when asked whether the remark would sway female voters and declined to say whether Whitman would raise the issue.
“I certainly expect Whitman to press it hard as a way of communicating to female voters and emphasizing her status as the potential first female governor of California,” Jack Pitney, a Claremont McKenna College politics professor, said in a telephone interview. Claremont is located east of Los Angeles.
“It’s hard to say that this is going to be a decisive issue,” Pitney said. “Voters know that politicians and political operatives use bad language in private. That’s not a revelation.”
The controversy didn’t stop the California chapter of the National Organization for Women from endorsing Brown the day after the tape was made public.
Patty Bellasalma, the group’s president, called Whitman one of “the most anti-women candidates to run in California in decades” and cited Brown’s record for hiring women.
“When you are armed with the facts and record of these two candidates, the choice is very easy, the choice is Jerry Brown,” Bellasalma said in a telephone interview.
Bruce Cain, a professor of politics at the University of California, Berkeley, said Whitman may use the remark to distance herself from her former housekeeper’s claim that Whitman kept her on while aware that she was in the U.S. illegally -- an issue that dominated the last debate.
Whitman accused Brown of engineering the housekeeper’s Sept. 29 news conference as a political stunt. She said she dismissed Nicky Diaz Santillan immediately after the woman admitted falsifying immigration documents.
“I’m sure she’ll ask for an apology or something,” Cain said. Still, the aide’s remark isn’t likely to gain as much traction as the immigration flap, he said.
“There’s so much going wrong in California right now, it doesn’t really tie into the pressing issues,” Cain said. “The undocumented issue ties into a major issue, which is: What are we going to do about immigration reform? I’m not sure how you tie this one in, in a way that helps Meg Whitman.”
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