Friday, February 26, 2010





Listen to Steve Poizner talk about his underdog run for the Republican nomination for governor, and it’s almost as if he’s channeling John Paul Jones, the naval hero of the Revolutionary War.

Poizner’s campaign, now mired more than 30 points behind former eBay chief Meg Whitman in every poll, is listing and might be taking on water, just as Jones’ frigate, the USS Bon Homme Richard, did during its sea battle against the British warship Serapis in the summer of 1779.

Like the captain of Serapis, Whitman’s chief consultant Mike Murphy feels his opponent might as well admit defeat. He offered in a now-infamous email to “clear the field” for Poizner in the 2012 Senate race if Poizner would surrender to Whitman. And former Gov. Pete Wilson, Whitman’s campaign chair, a few days later allowed that the general election campaign has begun, implying the primary election is over three months before the vote.

Poizner’s response to Whitman’s call for him to drop out amounts to precisely the same defiant thing Jones told the British captain: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

“I know a lot of people want the battle to start,” said Poizner, who is sitting on an $18.5 million war chest made up primarily of his own cash. The current state insurance commissioner, Poizner made a fortune estimated at as much as $1 billion by founding and later selling two Silicon Valley high tech companies.

“Meg clearly doesn’t want to be in a Republican primary,” Poizner said in an interview. Offered an opportunity to speak about her own campaign during an encounter after one of her recent stump speeches, Whitman declined and scurried away. Poizner, by contrast, was eager to talk.

“She wants to be in a general election because in a primary, she will have to answer for the money she gave to (Democratic Sen.) Barbara Boxer and to extremist environmental organizations,” Poizner said. He noted that Whitman, who has called for suspension of court orders limiting pumping of water from the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers in order to save endangered minnow-like delta smelt, contributed $300,000 to the Environmental Defense Fund, which aggressively sought those court orders. Farmers and cities in the San Francisco Bay area and south of the Delta cite the orders as a cause of unemployment and “man-made” drought.

“Essentially, she helped an organization that helped cut off water to cities and agriculture,” Poizner said.

He has yet to point out any of this to the great mass of Republican voters, but Poizner insists he will.

“I will run a very aggressive campaign,” he insisted, acknowledging that fellow billionaire Whitman, who has so far invested 39 million of her own dollars in her effort, has outspent him dramatically and bought herself that big poll lead via a months-long onslaught of radio and TV commercials.

“Just because she spends a fortune does not mean she has spent it wisely,” Poizner asserted. “Her ads are so vague that people know almost nothing about her. We will start our own ads at the right time, when people are ready to pay attention. Our polling shows that 50 percent of Republican voters are not even close to having an opinion yet. By the time this campaign is over, they will know who is the real conservative. They will also know she has consistently refused to debate me and that she would like to run her campaign from her living room. The fact is that people who might be supporting her now are responding only to her commercials, and that’s a very shallow base.”

Poizner admits his campaigning as a self-described “true conservative” represents some change from when he ran unsuccessfully in 2004 for the state Assembly from a liberal-leaning district on the San Francisco Peninsula. But he insists he’s completely consistent on many key issues.

“I was pro-choice (on abortion) then and I’m pro-choice now,” he said. “I was against gay marriage then, too, but for domestic partners. But as I’ve worked in Sacramento, I’ve become more passionately against tax increases and for cutting government spending. I’ve seen state government in action and that has shaped my thinking.”

Poizner insists he will beat Whitman in June because “There will be a small turnout and conservative Republicans will vote for a conservative with a track record. That’s me.”

But if he does win, will his campaign suffer the same fate as Jones’ ship, the Bon Homme Richard, which sank not long after Serapis surrendered? Will Poizner be easy pickings for Democrat Jerry Brown?

No, he insists. “About 90 percent of the voters think we are on the wrong track in California and being a career politician will make it difficult for him to win against someone who has a strong record and can solve problems.”

Stay tuned.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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