Politics Blog

Meg Whitman, better buy a sword and a shield on eBay — the real jousting is about to begin in the 2010 California governor’s race.

As in: New IPhone apps that track “the last time she did a press conference,” planes with banners that trail her on campaign events, websites that show voters aerial views of her fabulous Atherton estate…and (Arnold remembers this) those crowds of welcoming protesters from the California Nurses Association.p>

Our Chronicle story today details that new independent expenditure effort called “Level the Playing Field 2010,” which debuted its website just after midnight Tuesday. And the premiere radio ad, called “1-800,” kicks off in Northern California today to urge voters to “help level the playing field against Meg’s millions” by contributing to the group.

One concern of Democrats: the millions already being spent by Meg, versus the $12 million campaign warchest held by Democratic State Attorney General Jerry Brown, who hasn’t even declared himself a formal gubernatorial candidate yet.

One of the goals: to cast Whitman’s strategy — sidestepping debates, reporters and off the cuff questions from voters — as an effort by a billionaire to “crown herself governor.” (Example: in a virtually unprecedented move for a public official, she’s not doing a press availability at tonight’s Commonwealth Club appearance in Lafayette.)

Whitman, of course, is running against State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

But even some Republicans are miffed that Whitman’s team is already urging Poizner to drop out of the race for GOP unity’s sake –even as she’s turned down a debate before the grassroots at the coming GOP state convention in Santa Clara.

“Arguably, running for Governor of California is the race with the second highest profile in the country, right behind President of the United States,” said Averell “Ace” Smith, a Dem senior strategist with “Level the Playing Field” Monday. “And if you run for president, you have to go through a process — the primaries, where you are vetted, where the members of the media get to ask you questions, as do members of the public. What’s happening here, and it’s astonishing, is that there is truly an effort to fundamentally subvert that part of the democratic process.”

Here’s some more details on the group — one of three independent expenditure committees out there on the Dem side to counter Whitman’s considerable cash in the 2010 race:

*The insiders — Seniors strategists include Averell “Ace” Smith, former CA Hillary Clinton campaign manager, and former Clinton White House spokesman Chris Lehane, the high profile crisis communications specialist also known as “the Master of Disaster.” They’re jointed by former Los Angeles deputy mayor Sean Clegg and veteran CA Democratic operative Dan Newman. Also in the mix: Dem insider operative Jason Kinney, “research war room” head Mike Rice, environmental activist and former California League of Conservation Voters head Doug Linnen, new media guru (formerly of the Gavin Newsom for Gov team) Theo Yadinsky, and fundraiser Michelle Maravich.

*The money: The group says it has committments for more than $1 million in fundraising and aims to raise $20 million by Labor Day. Lehane says 90 percent of all the money raised will go directly into the campaign, which may extend to other races.

*The strategy: “This going to be a 21st century (independent expenditure), not one that just runs a couple of weeks of media,” said Lehane. “Because she has such an overwhelming advantage, because the Democratic nominee has not formally announced, there is a need to have an effort out there to ask questions now.” And in an era “where voters are very very suspect about people coming out of the business world — you can go to the heart of the issue,” he said. “Did she put personal profits above the public interest? Is that why she’s refusing to engage the public in a conversation?”

To read entire story, click here.