Meg Whitman, the GOP gubernatorial front-runner in California, apparently doesn’t watch her own exteremly expensive political ads. The former EBay CEO and billioniare insisted to Politico this week that her ads don’t contain shots of a border fence, then had to be corrected by her press secretary. The embarassing exchange has been the joke of the day on California’s political blogs. San Francisco Chronicle‘s Joe Garofili offered Whitman his first anual Rene Magritte award, named after the creator of the “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” painting. “Perhaps Meg was merely channeling Magritte in saying that there wasn’t a border fence in her ad,” he wrote. “It was an IMAGE of a border fence in her ad.”
On the serious side, the exchange points to several potential liabilities for Whitman as she vies to lead the tarnished Golden State. She has a strong incentive to appeal to the anti-immigration sentiments of her GOP primary voters, who support Arizona’s draconian immigration crackdown. In this sense the border fence is a powerful code, but it also alienates Latinos, who make up 37 percent of the state’s population. To win in the general election, she’ll need to convince some 30 percent of the state’s Latinos to vote for her.
The gaffe also adds fuel to the sense that Whitman, who is worth $1.4 billion, is out of touch with the state and her own campaign. The $80 million that she’s already shelled out during the primary is a record for California, yet her more conservative primary opponent, Steve Poizner, has drastically closed on her in recent days (UPDATE: She’s widened the lead again). Given how many political ads Whitman has been running, it’s possible that she hasn’t been able to keep track of what they’re saying. That can’t be good for a candidate with a campaign theme of governmental accountability.