As the California June 8 Republican primary nears, the state is on the verge of taking its first crucial step toward immigration sanity.
Anti-illegal immigration candidate and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is closing in on the pro-amnesty eBay billionaire, Meg Whitman.
Now, with only weeks remaining, Poizner can point to Public Opinion Strategies internal polling — the same firm that polled for Scott Brown in Massachusetts — that shows Whitman's one-time lead of 48 percentage points has dropped to 10. Outside of her San Francisco base, Whitman's lead is a slim five points.
Poizner's ads paint Whitman as a RINO liberal who once supported Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. The message Poizner wants to get out is that he is the conservative in the race.
Whitman's campaign did its best to downplay the poll's findings.
"Whatever they show … it'll show a long road from whatever they've got him at to 50 percent and a victory in the general election," Whitman campaign strategist Mike Murphy told reporters. "We're now in a debate over whether Steve Poizner will lose huge, lose medium, or lose a little tighter," he said.
Impartial analysts have a different take. "Fortunately for Poizner, Whitman now seems somewhat embroiled in the Goldman Sachs scandal, which … seems to have given Poizner's campaign a burst of energy," says Jessica Levinson, political director for the Center for Governmental Studies. "Those who thought Poizner was out of the race are going to have to rethink their view of this now contentious gubernatorial primary fight."
Although Poizner started slowly, during his campaign's final days he has outmaneuvered Whitman.
Poizer's strategy from the outset was to save his best for last.
Holding back to unload his three key points as close to June as possible, Poizner began running ads in mid-March and escalated them this week by hitting on three crucial fronts: his support of Arizona's S.B. 1070, an endorsement from popular state conservative and former gubernatorial candidate Tom McClintock, and Whitman's connection to scandal-plagued Goldman Sachs.
McClintock's endorsement may or may not translate into Poizner votes. But Whitman's reluctance to go full bore on immigration and her board seat on Goldman Sachs, even though it was 10 years ago and lasted for only 15 months, will be hard to overcome.
Whitman is charged with having "preferential access" that allowed her to earn millions in profits from insider trading policies that, when investigated by the SEC, were immediately declared illegal.
Since every Californian has been adversely effected by illegal immigration and greedy Goldman bankers who robbed them of their home equity during the mortgage meltdown, Whitman is in a bad spot.
One thing that Poizner did effectively, unlike other failed Republican candidates in past elections, is come out early and hard against illegal immigration. Other Republican high office seekers like Tom Campbell, Matt Fong, Bill Jones or Dick Lovejoy mentioned the illegal alien crisis either to selective audiences or not at all.
Imagine the folly of running as a Republican in Democratic California while pretending that illegal immigration is not a major contributor to the state's massive budget deficit.
Whether Poizner's immigration gamble will pay off will soon be known. If he bests Whitman, which now seems possible, he'll go head to head against Jerry Brown, who is one of California's savviest, most experienced politicians.
Here's an irony: Brown's sister Kathleen, a gubernatorial candidate knocked out by Pete Wilson and Proposition 187 in the 1994 primary, is Goldman Sachs' senior advisor.
If Poizner wins the GOP nomination, he can keep his attack on Goldman alive against Jerry Brown.
But if Whitman gets the nod, Brown would lose that important Goldman talking point that has given Poizner so much leverage since his sister is also a prominent player at that firm.
Interesting days lie ahead.
Joe Guzzardi was a California gubernatorial candidate during the 2003 Recall Gray Davis special election. As he likes to tell it, he finished behind Arnold Schwarzenegger but ahead of 50 percent of the rest of the field. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.