Republican California governor hopefuls Whitman and Poizner battle over past liberal positions

The two Silicon Valley billionaires vying for the Republican nomination to be California’s next governor are challenging each other’s conservative bona fides while trying to downplay their support of Democratic causes.

Former Ebay chief executive Meg Whitman may have better name recognition, but Steve Poizner, who made his fortune with GPS devices that allow police to locate a cell phone that has dialed 911, says he can win the nomination.

“Meg’s not a conservative — she campaigned for [Calif. Democratic Senator Barbara] Boxer years ago,” Poizner said last week during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. “I’m going to fight for core conservative principles.”

Poizner is positioning himself as a small-government conservative who strongly favors capitalism and individualism. He is currently the state insurance commissioner, one of two Republicans elected to statewide office in California.

The Whitman campaign roundly dismissed Poizner’s attacks, saying Whitman supported Boxer while she was chief executive of Ebay only because she knew the senator would  lead legislation to protect the Internet from taxation. Her campaign noted out that Poizner donated more than $10,000 to Al Gore’s recount effort.

“The cornerstone of taxpayer protections is the requirement of a two-thirds majority to pass tax increases on voters in this state, and Steve Poizner financed an effort to move that threshold lower,” said Tucker Bounds, spokesman for the Whitman campaign. “It was reported it would cost California taxpayers over $40 billion dollars in increased taxes.”

Both candidates have a track record of supporting liberal causes.

“Meg donated $300,00 to the Environmental Defense Fund and then went on an environmental cruise with Van Jones and President Carter — and she praised Van Jones after that,” Poizner said.

Watch Whitman rave about Jones:

“Meg misspoke about any affiliation with Jones,” her spokesman said. “She only met him once and, besides, issues like that only really matter to insider types, not the average Californian voter.”

“Neither Poizner nor Whitman is a natural fit for a traditional social conservative voter,” says Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “But Poizner has worked a lot harder to reach out to the traditional Republican base.”