As the California June 8 Republican primary nears, the state is on the verge of taking its first crucial step toward immigration sanity.
Anti-illegal immigration candidate and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is closing in on his rival, the pro-amnesty eBay billionaire, Meg Whitman.
With only weeks remaining, Poizner's internal polling from Public Opinion Strategies—the same firm that tracked Scott Brown in Massachusetts— shows Whitman's one-time lead of 48 percentage points has dropped to 10 or less. Outside of her San Francisco base, Whitman's lead is a slim five points.
Whitman's campaign did its best to downplay her precipitous plunge.
Mike Murphy, Whitman's strategist told reporters:
"Whatever they show … it'll show a long road from whatever they've got him at to 50 percent and a victory in the general election. We're now in a debate over whether Steve Poizner will lose huge, lose medium, or lose a little tighter."
But neutral analysts see it differently.
Jessica Levinson, the political director for the Center for Governmental Studies said:
"Fortunately for Poizner, Whitman now seems somewhat embroiled in the Goldman Sachs scandal, which … seems to have given Poizner's campaign a burst of energy. Those who thought Poizner was out of the race are going to have to rethink their view of this now contentious gubernatorial primary fight." [Whitman sat on Goldman, Sachs Board of Directors. More about that below.]
"Whitman sunk a lot of money into her campaign early in the election cycle. But her slipping poll numbers may indicate that her advertising bought her name recognition but not solid support. Poizner's message, while getting to the voters later in the cycle, may be resonating more." [Poizner Surges in California, by Daniel Wood, Christian Science Monitor, May 5, 2010]
Poizner's ads, on the other hand, effectively paint Whitman as a RINO liberal who donated to Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. The message Poizner wants to send is that he, not Whitman, is the conservative candidate
Although Poizner started slowly, during his campaign's final days he has outmaneuvered Whitman. Poizer's strategy from the outset was to save his best for last.
Holding back to unload his three key points as close to June as possible, Poizner began running hard-hitting anti-illegal alien ads in mid-March and escalated them this week by focusing on three crucial fronts: his support of Arizona's S.B. 1070, an endorsement from popular state conservative and former gubernatorial candidate Tom McClintock and Whitman's ties to scandal-plagued Goldman Sachs.
McClintock's backing may or may not translate into Poizner votes. But Whitman's reluctance to go full bore on immigration until the last minute and her board seat on Goldman Sachs, even though it was ten years ago and lasted only for fifteen months, will be hard for her to overcome.
Detractors charge that Goldman Sachs gave Whitman "preferential access" that allowed her to earn millions in profits by "spinning" stocks on insider information. When investigated by the SEC, those practices were immediately declared illegal. [Underdog Poizner on Attack in GOP Debate, by Juliet Williams, Associated Press, May 2, 2010]
Since every Californian has been hammered by illegal immigration and greedy Goldman bankers who robbed them of their home equity during the mortgage meltdown, Whitman will have a hard time hiding from angry voters.
One thing that Poizner did effectively, unlike previous failed Republican candidates, was to come out early, often and hard against illegal immigration.
Other doomed Republican like Dan Lungren, Tom Campbell, Matt Fong, Bill Simon, Bill Jones or Dick Mountjoy mentioned the illegal alien crisis either to selective patriotic immigration reform audiences or not at all.
Imagine the folly of running as a Republican in Democratic California while pretending that illegal immigration is not a major contributor to the state's massive budget deficit or any of its other societal woes.
Poizner's S.B. 1070 defense helps him and is consistent with his message about illegal immigration into California.
Saying he has "the courage and values to stand up to illegal immigration" and promising to "cut off benefits to illegals, saving millions," Poizner opposes amnesty.
Whitman, on the other hand, said: "I would actually oppose the law." On amnesty, Whitman parrots the standard RINO position. She favors a position where aliens would "stand at the back of the line, they pay a fine, they do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization." (See a YouTube Video that contrasts Poizner's position to Whitman's here.)
As a native Californian, from the beginning I have had grave reservations about Whitman. Why would she, a political neophyte, want the worst job in politics? Why would anyone in her right mind spend $60 million of her own money to win politics' most thankless job?
Even crazier is that Whitman has committed to waste $150 million of her fortune before it's all over.
Making Whitman's candidacy more inexplicable is that for most of her adult life, she never bothered to vote.
Over a 28-year period when Whitman could have voted at the local, state or federal level, she did so twice—at the most. I write that Whitman "could have voted" because she claims that she voted in 1984 and 1988, the two elections for which San Francisco County did not keep records! Who really knows if she did or didn't? (See Whitman try to explain her non-existent voting record here)
Amazingly, Whitman covets California's most important (and impossible) government job when she never demonstrated any interest in civics. Whitman's appalling lack of political involvement, now exposed, explain in part her precipitous drop in the polling.
What will happen in the remaining three weeks before the primary?
Although the trend favors him, Poizner does not have an upset assured. The focus is suddenly and unexpectedly on him so Poizner has to avoid blunders. Politics, like football, is played differently when the score is tied than when one team is way behind.
But his message as a fiscal conservative and anti-illegal immigration proponent is a more natural match for a Republican than Whitman's wobbly platform.
And Poizner benefits from what seems like an endless Whitman campaign that has been sustained by her massive personal (and possibly ill-gotten) fortune. Without her megabucks, Whitman would be dead in the water.
Whiman's biggest problem is that she may have played all her cards yet is rapidly losing ground a lesser known opponent.
The Whitman campaign has aired more negative ads than Poizner and an equal number of spots trying to sell herself as a corporate genius who can transfer her private sector skills into effectiveness as governor.
Pulling out all the stops, Whitman recently appointed Pete Wilson as her campaign chairman in a last ditch effort to prove she is serious about combating illegal immigration.
Whitman has also stumped with Mitt Romney, John McCain and Jeb Bush with little to show for it. [Whitman Ends Campaign with Romney, McCain, by Juliet Williams, Associated Press, April 24, 2010]
Despite it all, Whitman cannot get the traction she needs to sew up the primary.
If Poizner prevails, he'll face one of California's savviest and most experienced campaigners, Democrat Jerry Brown.
Unlike Whitman, Brown knows the ropes. Brown has been Oakland's mayor and California's secretary of state, attorney general and its governor.
As something of a celebrity candidate, Brown would have an edge in intangibles over the dweeby insurance commissioner. California likes glamour. Consider George Murphy, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Poizner will force Brown, who is mostly silent on illegal immigration, to take a stand.
But here I have a point to make you won't see anywhere else: in today's furious California, Brown's only sensible position from a political and practical perspective is to match Poizner's stand—if he expects to win.
The November election may have a delicious irony. Brown's sister Kathleen, a 1994 gubernatorial candidate knocked out by Wilson and Proposition 187 in the primary, is a Goldman Sachs senior advisor.
If Poizner wins the GOP nomination, he can keep his attack on Goldman alive against Jerry Brown.
In the end, a Poizner-Brown match-up could be a win-win for California patriots. Poizner's strong stand against illegal immigration is a given.
And I believe that Brown, at 71 and with no ambitions beyond the governorship, could surprise Californians and speak out as loudly against immigration as Poizner.
After all, Brown has been around California long enough (born in 1938; California's population then about 7.8 million) to know the damage immigration has done.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.