Candidates typically use the early phase of a campaign to introduce a
candidate to voters–to show the candidate walking on the beach with his wife
or reading with a group of freckle-faced kids in the classroom.
So who is state Treasurer Phil Angelides’ campaign putting in the early
campaign ads? Anyone but Phil.
It makes perfect sense for Governor Schwarzenegger to prepare an “Anyone but
Phil” strategy for November. We just never expected the Angelides campaign
to follow suit.
The first ad featured Sen. Barbara Boxer. His current ad uses his cute
daughters to do what cute daughters do: tell you how great their dad is. But
Angelides himself is noticeably absent.
Yes, “Anyone but Phil” is sure to be a theme we’ll hear a lot of between
June and November if, indeed, the Elk Grove developer turned evil-warlord of
urban sprawl who fearlessly conquered wetlands to build shrines to the
big-box gods of value-pak mac-and-cheese can convince Democratic-primary
voters that he’s their best chance of replacing Arnold in the corner office.
To be sure, he stands in stark contrast to the overly optimistic nature of
Governor Schwarzenegger, who takes bad news in stride by finding the
“fantastic” side to everything. Or state Controller Steve Westly, who is
challenging Angelides in the Democratic primary.
Westly reminds me of a church youth pastor, with his easy-going smile,
congenial rapport with strangers and youthful disposition–not to mention his
plate full of cash. With Westly, I’m waiting for his Bill Simon moment when
he utters the words “golly” on the campaign trail–and means it.
There won’t be any “gollys” or “fantastics” from Angelides, though. In fact,
the way things are shaping up, there may not even be Angelides.
His first TV ad, which hit the airwaves the same time as Westly’s first ad,
showed plenty of photos of the candidate, but the only person to speak to
the public was U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.
The second Angelides ad, which was dour in tone and vaguely reminiscent of
the Cold War-era public-service announcements comparing your brain on drugs
to an egg in a frying pan, featured Angelides with his less-than-inspiring
promise of more high-school counselors.
And then there was the ad with Phil’s daughters.
The Angelides for Governor campaign ads expose a very real weakness: The
candidate’s inability to tell voters who he is without hiding behind the
faces and voices of people like his family, Sen. Boxer or the anonymous
voice-over who tells us Angelides “stood up to Arnold, he’ll stand up for
The best the Angelides campaign can do is to surround Angelides with happy,
smiling faces whenever he’s in public, much like they did at a recent event
on the steps of the state Capitol where Angelides appeared with college
students from UC Berkeley for Cal Lobby Day. Like tofu, the candidate may
actually absorb the flavor of likeability that surrounds him.