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

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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.”

California’s budget crisis and the governor’s role in redistricting for the next election cycle are both current campaign issues.

“A few fundamental changes would could get the state back on track,” Poizner said of California’s record $20 billion shortfall. “I absolutely don’t want any more federal money — no more bailouts,” he said when asked about current Governor Schwarzenegger’s recent trip to Capitol Hill. “What a shame to have a $1.6 trillion economy and to have to come hat in hand to Washington for more.”

Whitman has almost a 40 point lead in the polls. Poizner said he isn’t worried, and that he is just getting ready to ramp up his campaign. Many Californians are skeptical that he can close the gap before June.

“If you were up in the Super Bowl by 40 points, would you throw the ball? No, you’d just try to run the clock,” said Eric Hogue, the long-time host of a popular conservative talk show in Sacramento on why Whitman is avoiding debates and the media. “The office of the governor is very similar to being a CEO,” he continued. “You watch the campaigns and how they’re operating and it gives you some idea of if they can run the state.” Many people say Whitman is running a shrewd and effective campaign by deliberately avoiding her opponent on the public stage.

“Independent voters are really going to pick the next governor,” says Poizner. “Just last week I spoke at a Tea Party event. I find great inspiration in the Tea Party movement — the issues that are important to them are important to everyone.”

California State Party leaders agree.

“We know all eyes are on us. Everyone is looking to see if the Massachusetts miracle can turn into the California conquest,” said Mark Standriff, spokesman for the California State Republican party. “The independents are certainly one of the largest and fastest-growing groups in California.”  The state party does not endorse a candidate until the primary election results are in.

“California is an example of what will happen if President Obama keeps expanding the government,” said Poizner. “California unfortunately did what he is advocating, but we did it 10 years ago and now we’re bankrupt, and people are angry about it. Taxes have gone up so much, people can barely make ends meet.”

Poizner said he would immediately propose $13 billion dollars of spending cuts, including $3 billion in cuts in welfare alone. “California has 12 percent of the American population but 30 percent of total welfare cases,” he said.

“Meg is not opposed to broad based tax cuts,” Whitman’s spokesman said. “She is opposed to rushing into tax cuts that will further deepen the debt that Californians are forced to burden. Her approach has been to support targeted job growth tax cuts in the near team, grow jobs, restore fiscal sanity in Sacramento and pursue broad based tax cuts when the state’s budgets is restored to health.”

The California primaries are Jun. 8 and the general election is Nov. 2

Contact Aleksandra at ak@dailycaller.com.