Thursday, February 4, 2010

Crazy Like A Sheep

Somebody flipped the "crazy" switch on California politics this week.
And you thought Massachusetts was interesting?
I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud while watching a campaign commercial. But Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO who's running for U.S. Senate in California, has produced the most unintentionally hysterical attack ad in recent history - maybe ever.
If you haven't seen the Demon Sheep yet, click here.
For months, Fiorina has been ignoring her Republican primary opponent, conservative Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, and focusing her fire on the Democratic incumbent, the always-vulnerable liberal lightning rod, Senator Barbara Boxer. But then Tom Campbell quit the race for governor and jumped into the Senate primary instead. Now Fiorina has a fight on her hands. Polls show Campbell has leapfrogged her among Republican voters, and the nomination is no longer hers for the taking (I'm not sure it ever really was, actually).
So how does Fiorina respond?
With this bizarre and extraordinary hit piece - which looks like either a Saturday Night Live spoof, a Monty Python outtake, or a Future Farmers of America video gone awry.
It comes complete with dramatic voiceover, sheep falling off pedestals, random barnyard animals skulking behind tax policy headlines and, best of all, a Fiorina staffer or some unfortunate actor wearing a sheep costume, bright red devil eyes and sensible shoes, crawling through a pasture pretending to be Tom Campbell. The "conservatives we admire" seem to be represented by cute, docile sheep, while Campbell's evil sheep might as well be named Damien.
Fiorina's point is that the ex-Congressman, ex-Berkeley Dean, ex-Schwarzenegger Finance Director is an "FCINO" (that's a new one on me), which stands for "Fiscal Conservative in Name Only."
Thank goodness she didn't slap him with the more traditional RINO label, or someone would have had to crawl around in a field full of rhinos.
Fiorina's campaign is certainly generating buzz with this web-only, more-than-three-minute spot - but maybe not the buzz she was looking for. Is that buzz the sound of wool shears?

The Fiorina camp isn't the only one going a little animal crackers this week. The California Democratic Party has launched a new website poking fun at her, called "Carly" The idea is to lampoon the Silicon Valley washout with tales of her business world failures. Except the website builds its premise on what a bad governor Fiorina would be - when she's running for the Senate. It took a few hours but the Dems have corrected their editing mistake.

On the campaign trail, Fiorina likes to deflect our questions about her stormy tenure at HP (when we're allowed to ask any) by pointing out how the company has rebounded, and claiming that she laid the groundwork for HP's current success. But the latest campaign finance disclosures show that her former colleagues don't seem to agree with her assessment. Hewlett Packard has given the maximum possible donation to the Boxer campaign - and many HP executives have made sizable donations to the Democrat too. There's only one Fiorina contribution listed from an HP employee - and it's for a measly 250 bucks.

And finally, there's the bizarre flap between the two remaining Republican candidates for Governor - state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. Whitman campaign strategist Mike Murphy made the mistake of emailing a Poizner staffer with the pointed suggestion that Poizner drop out of the race, since Whitman is creaming him in the polls despite all the money Poizner, yet another candidate who got rich in Silicon Valley, is pouring into his sputtering campaign. "We can spend $40 million+ tearing up Steve if we must," Murphy warned.
Poizner responded by going public with the email, accusing Whitman's camp of extortion, and referring the whole matter to the FBI. To which Murphy responded, "I'm starting to worry about the Commissioner's mental condition."
It's not likely anything will come of the "investigation" into Murphy's threats - but it's certainly made the otherwise sleepy race for the Republican nomination a little more interesting to watch. We're supposed to be doing a debate between these two this spring - I can't wait for that one.

That sound you hear in the background isn't demon sheep baahing - it's Democratic candidates Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer cackling with glee. Whatever momentum California Republicans thought they'd gained from Scott Brown's Massachusetts Miracle has temporarily dissipated in a flurry of wild and woolly intramural attacks, that reveal how fractured the GOP remains between its moderate and conservative wings, and demonstrate how tough it will be to knock the Democrats off their power pedestal. They won't go like lambs to the slaughter.

UPDATE: Just got off the phone with the Fiorina campaign. Deputy Campaign Director Julie Soderlund says the skulking demon sheep is actually "stock footage" (could it be stockyard footage?) from some past campaign, so no one knows who's actually playing the Campbell-in-sheep's clothing. Their ad guy dug that up from his archives. They can't say when it was shot, or for whose campaign. If anyone remembers that image from an old ad, let us know! She also insists the spot is not "unintentionally" hilarious. She says it was designed to be "funny and edgy and shocking" and to get people blogging about it. Mission accomplished.