Gail Collins on Political Baggage

Gail Collins joined the Leonard Lopate Show on Tuesday, as she does every week for How Did Politics in America Get So Weird. This week we probed her on the Connecticut Senate race and the peculiar parlance of Carl Paladino.

Collins had just returned from the debate between Senate candidates Linda McMahon and Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut. Both candidates came into the debate with a fair amount of baggage--from Blumenthal’s false claims that he served in Vietnam to McMahon’s history as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. But, according to Collins (who, by the way, would “never” use wrestling related puns), McMahon had a harder time pinning her opponent down during the debate.

[Blumenthal] has been a public figure in a job that does not normally make for much scandal or bad feeling. People generally like the Attorney General because he just runs around suing people who put faulty products on the market and so on. It’s hard on her. All she’s really got is that Vietnam thing, which you can only say so many times.

Still, the McMahon and Blumenthal debate was heated. Because the candidates are so different, the Connecticut electorate appears entrenched.

The interesting thing about Connecticut, unlike most states, there are very, very, very few undecided voters. There doesn’t seem to, as there are in many states, people wandering around saying, “Oh my God, they’re both crazy! Who am I going to vote for?” Although there was one poll that showed them very close, the more recent poll showed Blumenthal ahead. But who knows?

The Blumenthal/McMahon race has a number of parallels to contests around the country, most notably in California where the two major statewide races are between a pair of Democrats who have spent their careers in public service (Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer), and two wealthy female Republicans who are new to politics, but have extensive business experience (Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina). Collins expanded a bit on the "CEO phenomena" in contemporary politics and whether success in the boardroom comes with political baggage.

You had this…huge uprising of the people saying 'We hate Washington. We hate all the permanent politicians. We want something different!' And then, you had all these wealthy business people popping up saying 'Choose me instead!' and the people briefly saying “Fantastic! That’s exactly what we want!” And then it turns you have to actually look at the background of the businessperson too. It’s very hard to be in business for 20, 30 years and become extremely successful without breaking a few eggs or making a few action figures in China or having a few wrestlers on steroids or whatever else it turns out to be. And every single one of these wealthy, great successful people who’s running has gotten into that problem.

Collins also turned to New York Republican Gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino’s now famous blow up with New York Post reporter Fred Dicker. According to Collins, threatening to “take out” a reporter is just not going to help you with female voters.

The gender gap in that particular race right now is just a grand canyon of sexual division. Women just do not like Carl Paladino, which just reinforces my long-standing belief that women will not vote…for men who yell. No matter what they believe, if it’s a man who’s yelling, they’re not going there, and as we’ve seen, Carl Paladino is a prototypical man who yells.

Paladino’s angry rhetoric may not play well with some female voters, but as Collins mentions, it is playing well upstate and may also serve as a useful distraction.

He’s feeding off the anger of upstate New York people who feel like they’re being left behind…The rest of the state sometimes needs to wonder if some of the efforts to make upstate New York feel better are more well-intentioned than they are useful. Some of the money Carl Paladino himself has gotten from various state grants to create jobs in upstate New York seems to have created no jobs whatsoever.

Anger aside, we’ve also been treated to a different side of Paladino: how he selects his outfits. He told the Wall Street Journal in an interview, “I'm not aware of my presentation," and "Do I dress thinking I'm going to look like John Travolta? No."  We didn’t get a chance to ask Collins whether aspiring to be as glamorous as John Travolta will help or hurt you with voters upstate, or really, anywhere. Oh well, there’s always next week.