Whitman, Poizner clash at California Republican convention

Steve Poizner speaks with reporters at the state GOP convention in Santa Clara, Calif., March 12, 2010.
Steve Poizner speaks with reporters at the state GOP convention in Santa Clara, Calif., March 12, 2010.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner took a few swings at each other on the opening night of the California Republican Convention in Santa Clara last night. The two candidates are locked in battle for the party’s nomination for governor.

In an address to 1,500 delegates from around the state, former eBay Chief Meg Whitman accused State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner of adopting more conservative views to win over Republican supporters.

“From taxes to the open primary, from illegal immigration to partial birth abortion, his rapid reinvention has been a truly amazing feat of engineering,” Whitman said.

Poizner conceded he’d changed some of his views because he was a more “passionate conservative” now.

In a news conference, he balked at Whitman’s claim that she’s the true conservative in the race. The former Silicone Valley executive noted that Whitman backed California’s liberal Democratic U.S. Senator, Barbara Boxer, in her reelection bid six years ago.

“And not only did she vote for Barbara Boxer, she endorsed Barbara Boxer, she campaigned for Barbara Boxer, she called Barbara Boxer a great leader,” Poizner said.

Whitman said she liked the fact that Boxer opposed Internet taxes.

Video of Meg Whitman in one of two impromptu meetings with reporters - something she had rarely done during the campaign.

The two candidates are vying for support from the party’s conservative faithful gathered at the convention at the Santa Clara Hyatt Hotel outside San Jose. Poizner in particular is struggling for support amid Whitman's barrage of radio and T.V. advertising.

To that end, Poizner talked tough on immigration by calling for an end to most public benefits for undocumented immigrants. He said he’d like to see illegal immigrant children removed from public schools.

“Its not that I don’t care about kids everywhere. I taught for a year. I care very much about kids,” Poizner said. “But our public school system is deteriorating, collapsing. We’re being overwhelmed. We need to take care of our own folks here first.”

Whitman told reporters that she opposed such a move, noting that undocumented children often are brought to the U.S. by their parents.

“Many kids did not come here on their own, and I am not in the business of punishing kids for the sins of their parents,” she said.

Whitman met with reporters in two separate sessions – one lasting an hour. The meetings followed reporters’ previous complaints that she refused to answer questions and stuck to carefully staged campaign events.

Referring to one such event this week, she said it had been a mistake not to take questions.

“You’ll have lots more access in the coming couple of months,” Whitman said.

The Republican primary is in June. The winner will face the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor - state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Follow the California GOP convention discussion on Twitter today #cagop.