Sunday’s gubernatorial debate became a game of Find the Conservative as both Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner highlighted the other’s past moderate positions and Democratic endorsements. The two tangled over immigration, Wall Street and past positions, as Poizner attacked Whitman’s investments in Goldman Sachs and Whitman characterized Poizner as expedient and shifty.
Poizner asked Whitman, “How does your endorsement of Al Gore in 2000, your support of Barbara Boxer in 2004 — how does all that” fit into being a Republican?
Whitman responded with what appeared to be a scripted attack on Poizner. “Steve is an engineer. He engineers a new position for every office he’s running for.”
Whitman said she had endorsed George Bush and blamed an erroneous newspaper report for saying she backed Gore in 2000, and pointed out that Poizner “wrote a $21,000 check for Al Gore” in 2000. Poizner has said in the past that the check was from his wife.
They struggled to stay on topic and exchanged personal attacks during their second – and final – debate of the GOP gubernatorial primary. The event was held at the Tech Museum in San Jose. Poizner, trailing by double digits in the polls, appeared particularly aggressive.
Poizner, who said he backed a new Arizona law intended to curb illegal immigration, blasted Whitman’s support for “amnesty” for illegal immigrants and her past support of Barbara Boxer. Whitman said she opposed the law.
There is only one liberal Republican on stage tonight and it is not me,” Whitman retorted. “It is true that he has changed his position on virtually everything because he will say and do anything to get elected.”
But Whitman did try to explain her past support for Boxer. “I did support Barbara Boxer because she was on the right side of one issue” — taxation of the Internet.
Poizner said immigration is a top priority and said Whitman’s decision to deemphasize the issue offers Republican voters a clear choice in June.
Whitman said Poizner’s support for the law is “a classic case of Steve Poizner changing his mind. Last week he was against the law, now he’s for it. He was against Prop. 13, now he’s for it.”
Poizner shot back with a contradiction in Whitman’s words about immigration. He talked about Whitman’s past support for a “pathway” to legalization for illegal immigrants. “That’s amnesty,” Poizner said.
“Clearly, Meg Whitman has not made this a priority.”
Whitman, the former top executive of eBay, said that if she were governor, “I would actually oppose the law,” but, she said, “I am 100 percent against amnesty. I will build an economic fence from keeping employers from hiring illegal aliens.”