We are not a shy nation, at least, not on the telephone.
I lived in Los Angeles in 1982, and I remember that election. I don’t remember Tom Bradley being especially well-liked in Southern California, and it had nothing to do with race. I remember his daughter Phyllis was in the news a good bit then with a serious drug addiction that landed her in the county jail. He couldn’t even control his own daughter, the critics scolded; he’s a “typical Los Angeles liberal,” they said, who wants to take away our guns and is soft on crime. There were a lot of reasons Bradley lost that election, and race was not one of them.
Now Ken Khachigian, who was one of George Deukmejian's campaign aides, has written a column debunking the “Bradley effect” myth:
With a little more than a week left, I drafted copy for two new television commercials. The first built on Bradley's opposition to the death penalty and California's Victims' Bill of Rights, both of which had been overwhelmingly approved by state voters. Four former chiefs of Bradley's own police department had endorsed Deukmejian, the author of California's death-penalty statute and other tough-on-crime laws.
A second commercial sharply exploited the wariness that other major California cities felt toward Los Angeles, something that surveys by our pollster, Lance Tarrance, showed to be a sure vote-getter in San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area and growing suburbs across the state. Hence the tag line: "We deserve a governor for all of California's cities, not just one." It's noteworthy that no Los Angeles mayor has been elected governor in modern California history.
But rural California wasn't in line merely to reject Los Angeles. There were two other central concerns. First, guns. Gun control advocates had put an initiative to freeze handgun sales -- Proposition 15 -- on the ballot. The NRA and the firearms industry raised millions of dollars to run the "No on 15" campaign and, through California gun stores, registered 300,000 new voters, few of whom were likely to vote for gun-control advocate Bradley.
Add that to Bradley's unpopularity among Central Valley farmers -- he'd supported the United Farm Workers' grape boycott and couldn't escape being identified with vastly unpopular Gov. Jerry Brown -- and it's easy to see why rural California flocked to the polls to voice its opposition to his candidacy.
Interestingly, Kachigian points out that pre-election polls showed Deukmejian's Armenian ancestry had a higher negative (12%) with voters than Bradley’s race (5%).
I’ve been saying all along that the media is attached to this “Bradley effect” myth because they a) need a horse race to keep their ratings up until election day, and b) want to cover up for how lousy their polls were 20 something years ago.
Four months ago I was in rural Kentucky for my nephew’s wedding. This was East Jesus, Kentucky. Bumfug, Kentucky. Forty-five minutes-from-anywhere Kentucky. And at one point in the evening I looked around to see a room full of white 20-somethings all grooving to ghetto hip-hop music. That's when I knew that race would not be the election issue I had feared it would be.
Look, there will always be some racist nuts in this country. We all know one or two. But enough to swing an election? Nah.