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Election: California's Gubernatorial And Senate races

Election: California's Gubernatorial And Senate races
Time to check the polls to see how the race for California Governor is shaping up. Most of the action is coming from two Republicans vying for the nomination: Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner. And the big primary battle is also on the Republican side for the Senate seat defended by incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer. KPBS Political correspondent Gloria Penner will bring us the latest.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. For the last couple of weeks in our Wednesday political segment, we've been taking a look at the San Diego issues and candidates on the June primary ballot. We'll get back to that next week but today, a discussion about two big statewide races facing voters in June: the primaries for governor and for the senate seat now held by Barbara Boxer. Joining me to talk about the polls, the candidates, the issues and the campaign money being spent is KPBS Political correspondent Gloria Penner. Good morning, Gloria.

GLORIA PENNER (KPBS Political Correspondent): Good morning, Maureen. Let’s get to it.

CAVANAUGH: All right.


CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s start off with the governor’s race. The two candidates generating the most heat in the June primary are two Republicans, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner. Now where does – where do Whitman and Poizner stand in the polls right now?

PENNER: Well, Meg Whitman is the former eBay chair, CEO…


PENNER: …Meg Whitman, and she is ahead in the polls. At this point, Commissioner—and he’s the insurance commissioner—Steve Poizner is at 32%. Now this is up from where it was. It had been down much further. But Meg Whitman is ahead at 40%. Now the polls vary. I have to tell you, it’s like a snapshot in time. But let’s just say generally Meg Whitman is considerably ahead, maybe not double digits but ahead of Steve Poizner. And there are a few other Republicans in the Republican primary but they don’t garner much support at all.

CAVANAUGH: Now we’ve seen a lot of TV ads for these two. How much money – Do we know how much money that is being spent on this race?

PENNER: Yes. But for fairness, I should also tell you where the Democratic presumed nominee is in the polls, too.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, certainly, yeah.

PENNER: Yeah, and that’s Jerry Brown. And at this point the Rasmussen Report, in a telephone survey found that Jerry Brown had 44% support to 38% for Whitman, so he’s ahead. And in practically every poll that I’ve seen, he is a few points ahead of Meg Whitman, not substantially but he is ahead. So now we’ll go on to your next question.

CAVANAUGH: Well, because Whitner (sic) and Poizner are still sort of duking it out and they’re certainly doing that on TV because we see a lot of these ads, how much is this costing them?

PENNER: Well, it’s certainly costing her a bunch of money. She’s already given her campaign $59 million from her personal fortune. You know, that’s enough to keep a family of four for the rest of their lives, I would think. She said she’s willing to spend—get this figure—$150 million on her campaign. She said she’s trying to run a smart campaign that involves spending whatever it takes to win the governor’s race. She really wants to win. I mean, $150 million worth, that’s big. The – Jerry Brown, on the other hand, at this point doesn’t have anywhere near that amount of money but what he does have is he has labor groups supporting him. The Nurses Union is supporting him. And his campaign is benefiting from independent groups, funded in large part by labor unions. Poizer is rich but not as rich as Whitman is, he’s not Whitman-rich, so he’s running a different kind of campaign. He talks to practically anyone who asks; she tends not to. He’s provided detailed proposals for fixing the economy and the state budget crisis and now he’s starting to air some ads and that may make a difference, at least he hopes so. So right now, according to the Survey USA, which I think is interesting, they find that Whitman is ahead 49% to 27% for Poizner, and 15% are undecided. But there is sort of a whiff of hope there for Poizner…


PENNER: …because his polls are coming up.

CAVANAUGH: Well, both Poizner and Whitman started out with reputations as being moderate Republicans but the campaign rhetoric is really heating up and it’s getting a little hard line, especially their immigration stance.

PENNER: This is true. As far as the immigration is concerned, they have been pulling out every stop. They want to present themselves as quite conservative on immigration and so we’re seeing, for example, that Poizner says that he will deny all public benefits to undocumented immigrants, he’ll stop any more from crossing the Mexican border into California. He said, quote, if I have to, I’ll send the National Guard to the border. If that doesn’t work, I’ll send the California Highway Patrol to the border, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll send the California Republican Party to the border. So you know that he really believes in border enforcement. He also promised to curb welfare, which he says is an issue that’s very tied to immigration because he feels that California has spent a great deal of money on illegal immigrants, giving them public benefits. And as far as Whitman is concerned, she’s not really very far behind him. I think that maybe she’s a little softer on the border enforcement but generally the both of them have come out absolutely opposed to amnesty and, in fact, they’re criticizing each other for their relationships with – one with President George W. Bush’s approach to immigration reform, which was supported by Poizner, and then to John McCain’s comprehensive immigration reform, which was supported by Carly – by Meg Whitman, so you can see the two of them are sort of saying, well, an ex-Republican president and a Republican senator had it all wrong and we are going the other way.

CAVANAUGH: They seem to be battling each other to see who can do the most tax cuts, to promise the most tax cuts, too, in an effort to solve the state’s economic crisis.

PENNER: This is true. Poizner has proposed 10% tax cuts for individuals and businesses. He promises to cut the state’s personal income tax rates, the sales tax rate, and corporate tax rate, and a 50% cut in the capital gains tax rate, all to stimulate California’s economy and, of course, also to rein in the Republicans. You know, Republicans traditionally do not like taxes and so this would help out there. Whitman says she would eliminate sales taxes on equipment and other cuts that would allow businesses to keep workers and hire more, that she sees these kinds of tax cuts helping to create jobs by 2015.

CAVANAUGH: Now I have to ask you in the last 30 seconds that we have on this, Gloria, we’ve heard a lot from Whitman and Poizner because, of course, they’re engaged in this primary battle. Do we know where Jerry Brown stands on a lot of issues?

PENNER: Well, you know, Jerry Brown really has been sort of taking the high road in all of this, letting the Republicans battle it out. And he has, of course, said that he’s – he wants to create jobs through green energy and that he wants to cut the red tape so it would be easier for people to be able to allow small businesses to flourish, and also to increase lending to small businesses so that they would flourish. The key in all of this is that Independent voters this year can vote for either Republicans or Democrats. All you have to do is ask for that ballot when you say I’m an Independent voter or nonpartisan voter. This is the first time that the Republicans have invited Independents under the tent and that can make a huge difference as people become more disaffected with the Democrats in Washington and in Sacramento.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a break and when we return, we’ll be talking about the race for the senate seat now held by Barbara Boxer. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guest is KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner. We’re talking about the big statewide races on the June primary ballot. And when it comes to the race for Senate, once again the action is mostly on the Republican side. Democrat Barbara Boxer faces no serious primary challenge but the Republicans are duking it out. Tell us about the candidates.

PENNER: I will, indeed. In fact, Carly Fiorina’s going to be here in San Diego very, very soon. She’s holding a great big fundraiser down at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. Huge amounts of money could come in on that one, and a lot of local names are associated with that. So San Diego has a big stake in this race. All of the candidates have been coming down. Barbara Boxer’s shown up, and I know that we’re going to see even more of them. San Diego’s a big source of votes for them because our demographics are kind of right in the middle. We’re not hugely Republican, hugely Democratic. Okay, so Barbara Boxer was first elected in ’92. She’s going for her fourth term in office. She does have two other Democrats that she’s running against. They’re not really showing up much in the polls. One is a businessman, educator, Brian Quintana, the other is a blogger/journalist, Mickey Kaus. On the Republican side, we have Carly Fiorina, former eBay chairwoman (sic), and then we have former congressman Tom Campbell.

CAVANAUGH: Carly Fiorina is Hewlett Packard.

PENNER: Hewlett Packard, sorry.


PENNER: Yes. I’m still thinking Meg Whitman.


PENNER: And Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a very conservative Assemblyman. They’re the three who are vying for the Republican nomination.

CAVANAUGH: Now Tom Campbell started out running for governor but now the polls seem to say he is the frontrunner in the senate race, at least in the Republican primary. What is his main issue?

PENNER: Yeah, he’s a – he is a fiscal conservative, he’s a social moderate. He’s been described as an intermediary between Republicans and Democrats. His main issue is the economy. He was an economic advisor in 2005 to the governor then, and that is his major issue. On a national level, he thinks that we have to correct the country’s tremendous deficit and, of course, create employment. He’s very concerned about the size of government, as any good Republican is, and he feels that we should freeze only non-defense discretionary spending. By the way, on Israel, he says the United States should stand by Israel so long as Israel moves toward crushing Iran’s nuclear capabilities. So he, you know, he has great national and international thoughts as well. And he does seem to walk the line between conservative and progressive policy. For instance, he stands by a woman’s right to choose abortion and he’s in support of same sex marriage. Now these are positions that alienate a lot of his fellow Republicans. However, he stands against the legalization of marijuana and he wants to make across the board cuts in the budget. So you can see he really is sort of halfway in between there.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, Carly Fiorina is quick to talk about her CEO experience in running Hewlett Packard, but that’s really sort of a double-edge sword for her, isn’t it?

PENNER: It is. The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission launched an investigation into whether Hewlett Packard paid bribes to win a computer contract with a unit of the Russian government and the report stated that Russian investigators raided HP’s office in Russia for details. Now Bloomberg News says that Carly Fiorina had no involvement in the investigation but the point is that there is so much of a magnifying glass now on Wall Street and this whole Wall Street versus main street debate is heating up. I mean, we see, for example, that Goldman Sachs now is in the spotlight and so big business and being the head of big business and being part of the whole Wall Street thing may not necessarily work to her benefit. In fact, I think it’s Campbell, yes, that is writing a book called ‘The Book on Carly.’ And he is going to say that what she’s telling voters is a work of fiction, and instead he’s doing it by e-mail. He’s quoting from nonfiction books about Carly, which give telling insights into who she really is and why she failed in business. You know, she was basically kicked off the board.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. Let’s focus on Barbara Boxer because she is, of course, seeking, as you said, her…

CAVANAUGH/PENNER: …fourth term…

CAVANAUGH: …in the Senate. She’s – she should have a major incumbent advantage.


CAVANAUGH: So why are some people calling her vulnerable?

PENNER: Well, she is at a disadvantage in the current climate, a discontent over taxes and the national debt among the voters. Barack Obama’s numbers have slipped. The Democratic Party, some people feel, needs new faces. Others feel it needs to be replaced. Some people also believe that politicians have a shelf life just like your can of peas and that she’s simply been there too long. Now these are very troubling words for Boxer. She won in a 20 point landslide 6 years ago but now she really does face the fight of her political career. So we’re going to see that. President Obama did go to Los Angeles to help fundraise for her. Some people saw that as, you know, a big boost for her, others, like the head of the California Republican Party, said that’s because she’s in trouble, that’s why he went to California. So, you know, interpretation is in the eyes of the beholder.

CAVANAUGH: We all have a shelf life like a can of peas, Gloria, when it gets down to it. Now, once again, there’s a problem that may be raising its head for the Republican Senate candidates and that is they may be forcing each other to move so far to the right to win the primary that they have less of a chance of actually winning the election in November. Give us your thoughts on that.

PENNER: I will, of course, since you asked. Maureen, in the last segment, I talked about the Independent voters. This is a powerhouse. 20% of voters in California are undeclared voters. They do not align with a party. And at this point, we’re talking about people who are looking at what’s happening in Washington and Sacramento saying, you know, I don’t really like it. Independent voters tend to be moderate, and so here you have Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore sort of toeing more of the conservative line and then we have our – Tom Campbell, fiscally conservative but socially moderate. If you are going to pull in the Independent voters, you’re going to eventually go to the middle. Now, of course, the primary tends to bring out your core voters, your core Republicans. Core Republicans tend to be more conservative. So people who win in the primary because of conservative credentials may find that when it comes to the general election and they’re running after Boxer, they are going to have to move toward the middle. And that opens all kinds of opportunities for them to be called hypocrites.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let me just tell everyone that next week when we return, we will return to San Diego politics with Gloria and talk about the primary races for seats on the San Diego City Council. Thank you so much, Gloria.

PENNER: You’re welcome.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner. She is the host of the Editors Roundtable and San Diego Week on KPBS television. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.