Warming Up to Whitman

San Diego,Calif. — Following Meg Whitman’s banquet speech to the Republican State Convention here Thursday night, the talk among the largely conservative delegates gathered at the Manchester Hyatt Larely boiled down to one point:  Yes, they definitely had their doubts about GOP gubernatorial nominee’s conservative credentials, but, they agree, it is nonetheless critical that Whitman triumph in November over Democrat Jerry Brown.

With a just-completed Rasmussen Poll showing State Atty. Gen. and former two-term Gov. Brown edging Whitman by a narrow 43% to 41%, the GOP nominee continues reaching out across the political spectrum with her message of putting California back to work.  But as the former eBay chief executive officer gains support among independents and even Democrats tired of Brown, there remains some concern about her among a number of conservatives. 

“Conservatives do have a problem with some of Meg’s positions,” said Steve Frank, editor of California Political News and Views, “but they have an even greater problem with the positions of Jerry Brown.”

Los Angeles County GOP Chairman Jane Barnett, herself a conservative activist since the 1960s, agreed.  Noting that she often talks to fellow party workers who voice skepticism about Whitman’s stands on illegal immigation and abortion, Barnett told me: “Look, when I hear this, I just tell them I remember what Jerry Brown did when he was governor the last time [1966-74].  Taxes went up, the size of state government grew, and unemployment was high.” 

Barnett pointed out that, after years of inactivity, many traditional conservative activists in Los Angeles are returning to the party fold and volunteering in the 2010 campaigns,  Moreover, she said, , “we have two large and very active Tea Party groups in our county-the Pasadena Patriots and the South Bay Patriots.  And, believe me, they are enthusiastic about electing Meg and stopping a third term for ‘Gov. Moonbeam.” 

Where the Right Has Problems with Whitman

In her nomination battle with State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and even after she won the GOP nod in the March primary, Whitman came under fire from the right for her remark that California did not need its own version of Arizona’s new law dealing with illegal immigration and for voicing support for state-funded abortion.

In addition, the Republican nominee for governor has so far refused to endorse Proposition 23, the November ballot measure that would suspend California’s “cap and trade-type” environmental  regulations until unemployment (which is now at 12.2%) is down to 5.5% for four quarters.  In an interview before the convention, the author of Prop 23, State Assemblyman Dan Logue, reminded me how, in contrast to Whitman, Republican Senate nominee Carly Fiorna has strongly weighed in behind the measure.

But, as important as they are, are these positions of Whitman enough to make conservatives “take a walk” on her fall campaign?  It certainly didn’t seem so from the mood at the state convention.  As Laura Gadke, state party vice chairman for the Central Valley, told me: “We’re a blue state, so we’ve got to be a big tent.  And frankly, with the condition our economy is in, Meg is resonating when she talks about applying a business model to California.  That’s something conservatives agree with her on wholeheartedly.” 

In discussing the fall campaign with me, Jon Fleischman, editor of the popular Flash Report on state politics. cited the conventional wisdom that to win in California a Republican “must get 60% of the independent voters and 20% of the Democrats and 90% of the Republicans.”  

I asked Fleischman if Whitman can do this, especially holding onto the votes in her own party.  He replied: “I think so.”


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