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10.06.10

Scandal Hobbles Whitman

The media frenzy over an undocumented housekeeper has dropped Meg Whitman down to 40 percent likely to win California’s gubernatorial race, trailing Democrat Jerry Brown, according to our Election Oracle that mixes polling with opinions from millions of online posts and tweets.

The most happening race in today’s crop of Election Oracle updates is in California, where ex-Gov. Jerry Brown is facing off with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman for governor. Our current calculation, derived from polling averages and online discussion, shows Brown with a 60 percent chance of victory, an improvement over his 50 percent odds just yesterday.

Saturday’s gubernatorial debate dominates the online discussion surrounding their campaigns, and Brown is getting the more favorable buzz, by our estimates. There’s little mystery about what’s causing it—Whitman is fighting off a full-blown media frenzy after it came out that she had employed an undocumented worker, Nicandra Diaz, as her housekeeper. Making matters worse, the debate with Brown was held on Spanish-language station Univision, pushing the burgeoning scandal even further to the front of the campaign. Brown took the opportunity to slam Whitman as a hypocrite for calling for a crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants while doing the same herself. Whitman shot back that she had fired the woman in question when she learned about her immigration status and blamed Democrats for putting her in the spotlight against her wishes.

Polls show the national Latino vote, while favoring Democrats, is significantly less likely to turn out this time around, and Whitman has been trying to cut down on the Democrats’ traditional lead in this demographic even further with Spanish-language outreach of her own. If immigration stays the hot topic in the race going into the final stretch, it could potentially change the dynamic in this regard.

Whitman has spent $140 million of her own money on the race so far, absolutely dominating the airwaves compared to Brown, so the fact that she’s still in a tight race in the polls should be a major source of concern. As John Corzine discovered in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, campaign cash can only go so far.

In an interesting development, both Brown and Whitman pulled out of a scheduled radio debate for Wednesday night.

In an interesting development, both Brown and Whitman pulled out of a scheduled radio debate for Wednesday night, a decision campaign reps for both sides said was “mutual”. Are both candidates nervous about how the housekeeper issue might play?

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Another race to watch is Florida’s House contest in Orlando between incumbent Democratic flamethrower Alan Grayson and Republican challenger Daniel Webster. Grayson’s well-known for his incredibly combative style, most famously in his assertion on the House floor that the Republicans’ health-care plan was for you to “ die quickly.” It’s netted him the highest fundraising numbers of any Democratic House member, but it’s possible he’s finally gone so far that even he realizes it’s time to cool down. After airing a highly selectively edited ad of his opponent, whom he dubbed “Taliban Dan,” he drew widespread condemnation in the media and from nonpartisan Factcheck.org for what many considered an unfair smear. It’s easy to see how the race shifted in our model from a 50-50 split to a 60 percent chance of victory for Webster in the last 24 hours—the top phrase in its word cloud is “Taliban Dan,” 73 percent of the online buzz is about Grayson, and 55 percent of it is positive for Webster.

Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.