Can Fiorina and Whitman win in California?

No, because they're tacking right on choice and immigration. Plus, my apologies: Whitman says she's pro-choice

Published June 10, 2010 1:10AM (EDT)

I was on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and "Hardball" in the evening to talk about Tuesday's election results, especially the success of women candidates, nationally and in California. As a feminist, I'm happy to see women get to fully participate, anywhere -- and that includes the Republican Party. The GOP still lags way behind Democrats in electing women to Congress – in the Senate, 13 of 17 women are Democrats, and in the House, there are 59 Democrats and only 17 Republican women.

I also explained why I don't think Meg Whitman is likely to be governor, or Carly Fiorina will defeat Barbara Boxer to become California's first female GOP senator. I got one fact wrong that I'd like to correct: On "Hardball" I said Whitman was antiabortion, but in fact, her website says she is pro-choice. I apologize for my confusion. Whitman ran such fierce ads criticizing her GOP primary opponent Steve Poizner for supporting abortion rights, I assumed she did not. In fact, she tried to have it both ways, trashing Poizner for supporting fewer restrictions on abortion than she does, while quietly reassuring California's pro-choice majority that she shares their views. Reasonable people may disagree about the ethics of her strategy, but if she says she's pro-choice, I'm going to accept that, and welcome it.

Still, both women are going to have a hard time in November. Whitman's message – that she'll run California like a business – might not wear well as businesses like BP and Goldman Sachs come to look even less trustworthy than government. (Her steering eBay business to Goldman Sachs while joining its board will also be a major issue in the general election.)

I'll also say, I was disgusted by a horrific Whitman anti-welfare ad that was straight out of Ronald Reagan's 1966 campaign. It was demagoguery: She promised to make welfare recipients seek and take jobs – as though California never passed its own historic welfare reform legislation, doing just that, way back in 1986. It was repellent to listen to her demonize welfare recipients, the vast majority of whom are women and children, at a time when California is already slashing services. (A funny irony: I only heard Whitman's anti-welfare ads when listening to San Francisco Giants games on our local all-sports-radio station, KNBR. Maybe she thought women wouldn't be listening?)

Carly Fiorina is in fact anti-choice, and that alone is likely to doom her in November. She won't be helped by telling the New York Times' Frank Bruni, for a profile last Sunday, that she became more ardently anti-choice after she tried and failed to conceive a baby. Infertility is tragic for the women (and men) who go through it, and I'm sorry for Fiorina's struggle. Still: What a selfish reaction to her own personal disappointment.

On both MSNBC shows today, everyone wanted to talk about the Sarah Palin effect, and I was forced to give Palin credit for backing some primary winners this time around. I think Fiorina was helped by Palin in the primary -- she shored up the former HP exec's right-wing credentials, because a lot of people thought Fiorina was pro-choice. But she could be hurt by the short-term Alaska governor in the general election. The DSCC should pay for Palin to stump for Fiorina in California; she will galvanize Boxer's base.

I'm no Republican, so I shouldn't hang out a shingle and give the party advice, but it seems a bit of a missed opportunity for both Fiorina and Whitman, who are probably social moderates (because California CEOs tend to be), to tack right on issues like choice and illegal immigration. Fiorina came out for Arizona's racial-profiling anti-immigration law, which will doom her with Latinos. Whitman opposes the Arizona law, but she's run ads featuring former California Gov. Pete Wilson (who turned the state over to Democrats for more than a generation by backing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, and running clownish ads demonizing illegal immigrants from Mexico in 1994). Whitman has also ratcheted up her rhetoric about immigration since the Arizona law became a national issue.

You can't count either Whitman or Fiorina out, since they've been able to tap tens of millions of personal wealth, already, to power their campaigns. But California's statewide offices are almost never purchased outright: See Huffington, Michael, in the history books. I would still like to see Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown, in particular, give his base a reason to come out, besides disliking Whitman. I don't think Whitman and her ads are wearing well, but who knows how Brown, our former governor, Oakland mayor and attorney general, will wear when he's out speaking to voters directly. A lot can happen between now and November, but I don't expect to see either of these Republican women winning these statewide races.

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2010 Elections California Carly Fiorina Meg Whitman