In politics, timing is everything, and for billionaire GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, the timing of the Security Exchange Commission's fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and this week's high-profile congressional hearing featuring company executives couldn't be worse.
Just as she appeared close to wrapping up the Republican nomination, a new vulnerability has been exposed: Whitman once served on the board of directors of Goldman Sachs and, while CEO of eBay, received preferential treatment in getting access to initial offerings of stock, which can and were quickly resold at significant profits. The company gave such preferential treatment to executives at companies, such as eBay, that gave them business. The practice, known as spinning, has since been outlawed.
Whitman, reacting to the crisis, told the Associated Press that she now regrets having participated in the spinning and that serving on the Goldman Sachs board was, for her, "not a good fit."
All this opens a huge window for Whitman's primary opponent, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. Poizner's television advertising attacking Whitman as a phony conservative has already chipped into Whitman's once-overwhelming lead. The question now is whether he will launch ads focusing on Whitman's Goldman Sachs connections.
The Poizner campaign today issued a "research briefing" on the issue, under the headline "It's too late to apologize."
Democrats have already attacked Whitman on the issue in their statements and on various Internet sites, but they know that there's only one person who has the resources and the motivation to take the attack to the television airwaves at the moment, and that's Poizner.
Democrats fear that Poizner's commercials to date have done nothing to hurt -- and have perhaps helped -- Whitman in the general election. His attacks thus far have been designed to appeal to conservative Republican primary voters who are going to vote for the GOP candidate in November no matter what. When Poizner's ads tell viewers, for instance, that Whitman has the same position on immigration reform as President Obama, that may upset some conservatives but it probably helps her standing with independent and Latino voters.
But if Poizner decides to attack Whitman on her Wall Street and Goldman Sachs connections, that would be a different story. In that event, win or lose, Poizner will have done Democrats a favor by advancing the same narrative they're sure to use against Whitman in the fall if she is the GOP nominee.