Two Papers, Two Candidates, Two Styles

LAT and NYT on Whitman and Fiorina

A Los Angeles Times story today on the different political strategies of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina will sound familiar to those who read New York Times reporter Jesse McKinley’s “Different Paths for Two California Republicans” on September 23. The Los Angeles Times piece, “Tactics split state’s two top GOP contenders,” gets a little dirtier in the issues and has the benefit of having been written with the most recent polling data in hand, but the message is pretty much the same: Fiorina’s veering right and stoking Tea Party anger; Whitman’s playing the safer centrist. Spot the difference between these two assessments of the candidates’ approaches in the pieces:

From the East Coast:

Polls show both races are essentially dead heats. But Ms. Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay who breezed to the Republican nomination for governor, has steadily moved toward the center in her race against the Democrat Jerry Brown, experts say, voicing her support for abortion rights and refusing to back a ballot measure that would suspend California’s landmark environmental law, AB 32.

Ms. Fiorina, who faced a tougher primary challenge but won comfortably, has stayed to the right, in what some political analysts see as a sustained effort to galvanize the conservative base against her opponent, Senator Barbara Boxer, a liberal stalwart whom she calls an “antiwar ideologue” beholden to “extreme environmentalists.”

And from the West:

Whitman is following the well-tested route of Republican candidates who have succeeded statewide in California. After stressing her conservatism in the primary, she softened her rhetoric and began emphasizing her moderate stances to appeal to independents.

Fiorina has chosen a riskier strategy. She has stood firm on the conservative positions she staked out in the primary, betting that Republicans’ enthusiasm this year will help overcome Democrats’ registration advantage and that swing voters will overlook the areas where her views are out of sync with theirs.

And it’s clear that the Los Angeles Times’s Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta went to a Fiorina event very similar to one McKinley attended. McKinley wrote over two weeks ago:

At a rally outside Fresno, in the conservative Central Valley, Ms. Fiorina paced and pointed her way through an impassioned stump speech, imploring members of the “brave Tea Party” to support her, bragging about her husband’s gun collection, and joking about “that other world, called San Francisco.” (That she lives in Los Altos Hills, a well-to-do Bay Area suburb, seems beside the point.

Mehta and Reston lead with:

On the campaign trail at a recent “tea party” event, Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina dropped a reference to her husband’s guns, chided her Democratic opponent for vilifying backers of Arizona’s tough immigration law and renewed her commitment to offshore drilling and to suspending the state’s global warming law.

Each then feature the usual mix of strategists and academics theorizing on each candidate’s approach and their respective chances of success in the relatively blue state. Each reach similar conclusions: Fiorina is taking the riskier approach.

Despite charting very similar territory, though, the two papers have styles as different as the candidates they’re covering: the New York Times stays mostly above the policy details, instead focusing on the women’s personal styles, their relationship with each other, and, interestingly, their use of gender in the campaign. The Los Angeles Times caters more directly to its local readers (also the local voters), playing down the influence of performance and diving headfirst into each candidate’s standing on particular issues. With a heavy emphasis on local context, the reporters look at how the BP oil spill affected the debate on offshore drilling and highlight abortion as a potentially key electoral issue and key difference in the women’s policy stands. Strategy-wise, it’s particularly interesting to read that Whitman’s aggressive spending could help Fiorina, lagging lately in the polls: Republicans inspired by Whitman’s get-out-the-vote efforts are likely to vote for Fiorina while they’re at it. An obvious point, but one that not a whole lot of people have touched on.

Like Fiorina and Whitman, there’s a lot of similarity between these two pieces, with a few key differences. As with the women, a lot of it has to do with style. The newer report is a bit of a sequel to the New York piece, but also very much added value. And taken together both offer readers a pretty full picture of two candidates who can often—in the national media at least—be lumped together as wealthy, self-funded Republican women.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.