California Gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner came out swinging Friday morning at his primary opponent, former EBay CEO Meg Whitman, for being a centrist and a political “rookie.” At a TAS and Americans for Tax Reform Newsmaker breakfast, the state insurance commissioner positioned himself as the conservative candidate while arguing that Whitman’s campaign was attempting to re-brand the Republican Party away from conservative principles.
Poizner cited his support for “across the board” tax cuts as a way of positioning himself to the right of Whitman, who he said will only do targeted tax cuts for specific industries. On social issues, Poizner said he opposes government funding of abortion, although Poizner was endorsed by Planned Parenthood in a 2004 run for California State Assembly.
Poizner supports suspending the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), a California emissions-cutting act that he believes helped skyrocket California unemployment to 2.5 percentage points above the national average. Poizner wants the act suspended until four straight quarters of below 5.5 percent unemployment — something that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Poizner attacked Whitman for praising ousted Green Jobs Czar Van Jones and for Whitman’s charity foundation donating $300,000 to the Environmental Defense Fund, a group that helped write AB32 and supported the preservation of the endangered delta smelt at the expense of Central Valley farmers. Poizner also asserted that he would confront California’s welfare problem and illegal immigration problem by deploying the National Guard to the border if necessary. Poizner also criticized Whitman for endorsing liberal Democrat Barbara Boxer in her 2004 re-election campaign and for Whitman’s not mentioning the word “conservative” or “Republican” in her television ads.
This primary race is a battle between two former Silicon Valley CEOs, both of which are estimated to have around $1 billion of personal wealth. Despite Poizner’s $18 million cash on hand, Whitman is running around 30 points ahead in the polls before the June primary — although Whitman has already advertised extensively. In an attempt to differentiate himself from Whitman, Poizner said, “Whitman is just a very impressive marketing executive, that’s not me. What I am is an engineer. I build things, and I fix things.” Poizner credits his former company, SnapTrack, for pioneering GPS technology on cell phones.
With ample cash to saturate the airwaves, Poizner should be able to make this race competitive. However, he has to move quickly and move up his name recognition if he can catch up to Whitman by the June primary. The winner is all but certain to face Attorney General and 1970s Governor Jerry Brown.
Despite Poizner’s positioning himself as the conservative candidate, he conceded that he will need to win some Democrats and most independents in order to win in the general election. Poizner cited his winning the statewide election as insurance commissioner in an attempt to argue that he is electable. In this election, Poizner will also have to convince voters of the differences between him and embattled Republican Governor Schwarzenegger, who is leaving office with almost unanimous disapproval. Given California’s fiscal mess, this election could have nationwide implications if the next governor is able to avoid bailouts/bankruptcies that could affect the economy of the entire country.