Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner stepped up their attacks on each other Saturday as the two gubernatorial hopefuls battled for support of the party faithful at the GOP’s statewide convention in Santa Clara. Whitman’s supporters handed out DVD’s that accused Poizner of “hiding who he really is" – a reference to Whitman’s accusations that he once supported tax increases. Whitman also ran an ad on one of the conference hotel TV channels saying “Steve Poizner is not a conservative.” While both candidates have proposed different tax cuts, Poizner told reporters he wants deeper cuts than his opponent and accused her of being soft on illegal immigration. Poizner’s proposed cutting taxpayer-funded benefits like public education to illegal immigrants. Whitman opposes that proposal. Poizner declared at a speech during dinner, “As governor, I’m going to stop illegal immigration once and for all.” The crowd cheered. Poizner is looking to gain footing with the party’s conservative activists after falling behind Whitman in the polls by as much as 30 points. The convention also played host to a Tea Party rally. California Republicans hoped to tap into the energy of the nascent political movement. In the following video KPCC's Frank Stoltze speaks with Mark Williams, of the Tea Party Express “Ladies and gentlemen, the political environment has changed,” state GOP Chairman Ron Nehring told a crowd of about 250. “This is not the Republican Party that was on defense in 2008. We have recommitted ourselves to our principles. This is the party that is against high taxes.” Nehring said. Most of those in attendance were already Republicans, like Jane Hendricks. But she was not attending the convention. She drove from her home in nearby San Jose to attend the rally. Hendricks, a grandmother, said it’s exciting to be party of a grassroots movement. “It’s empowering and it’s good to be with like-minded people that feel the way I do. You get strength from it,” she said. One of the organizers of the rally said the Tea Party must maintain its independence. He said its job is to take back the Republican Party, not be a part of it. Follow the California GOP convention discussion on Twitter today #cagop.
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