California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner always struck me a smart, level-headed guy. You don't make a fortune in Silicon Valley if you're a dummkopf. Of course, business smarts don't always translate into political smarts, as voters are learning to their chagrin today.
Poizner called a bizarre press conference in Sacramento on Monday, in which he accused former eBay CEO Meg Whitman -- his main rival for the Republican nomination for governor -- of "criminal" campaign tactics. Poizner wants the state attorney general's office and the FBI to investigate Whitman's campaign consultants.
Torey Van Oot of the Sacramento Bee reports the gory details:
GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner today said he has reported "threats" made by the Republican rival Meg Whitman's campaign adviser to law enforcement officials.
Poizner said at a press conference that Whitman campaign strategist Mike Murphy issued "crystal-clear" threats to his staff in an attempt to effectively "cancel the election" by pushing him to drop out of the race.
"This is not an attempt to be hardball and to be aggressive, but this is an attempt to effectively manipulate the election process, the integrity of the election process, by issuing these threats behind the scenes to get me not to run," he said.
The campaign provided a copy of an e-mail in which Murphy asks an unidentified Poizner campaign consultant if there is any chance Poizner, who is trailing Whitman in the polls and in campaign funds, will reconsider his run.
The e-mail, provided by the campaign to reporters and in a letter to law enforcement officials, says the Whitman camp can spend $40 million "tearing up Steve if we must."
"I hate the idea of us each spending $20 million beating on the other in the primary, only to have a damaged nominee," Murphy wrote, according to the e-mail.
In the e-mail, Murphy offers that the campaign could "unite the entire party behind Steve right now to build a serious race" for U.S. Senate in 2012.
In a letter sent to the FBI, U.S. Attorneys Office, Fair Political Practices Commission and state Attorney General Jerry Brown, Poizner also claims Murphy told a senior adviser that the campaign would "put (Poizner) through the wood chipper" if he did not drop out of the race.
Poizner evidently believes Murphy -- who often appears as a guest and occasionally fills in for Dennis Miller -- was being literal. If that's so, then Poizner isn't politically smart at all.
It is true that I have been trying to find a way to avoid a costly and unnecessary Republican primary. I believe it is important that Republicans across California unite around Meg Whitman to defeat Jerry Brown in the fall. It is also true that I am not the only one with this view. Many Republican leaders are more and more concerned that the Poizner campaign, now 28+ points behind in the polls and still sinking, is becoming little more than a stalking horse for Jerry Brown and the Democrats, especially since Commissioner Poizner has been loudly threatening to run a multi-million dollar negative campaign against Meg Whitman for months.
Several weeks ago I was advised by a source close to Steve Poizner that his pollster, my old friend Jan van Lohuizen, had been expressing grave doubts about the viability of the faltering Poizner campaign. So I emailed Jan; this is the email the Commissioner is so excited about. About ten days ago I also placed a phone call to a second senior Poizner consultant. We had a nice talk and discussed the option of Poizner considering a race for Senate in 2012. The consultant offered to discuss this with Commissioner Poizner and asked for a number where I could be called back. I do not plan to make any further comment on these discussions, as I do not want to create even more embarrassment for his consultants or get anybody fired.
Judging from the Commissioner's rant today concerning the FBI and Jerry Brown, I take it the Commissioner's answer is "no."
There's more. (Murphy also expresses concern about Poizner's "mental condition.")
This is not good for Poizner, who is, in fact, trailing badly in the polls. No doubt his advisors thought he could portray Whitman as just another vicious pol disguised as a business-savvy outsider in an election year down on "politics as usual." Unfortunately, Poizner comes off as an underdog desperate to get traction. (Hugh Hewitt says much the same.)
It's really too bad, because Whitman is such a lame candidate. Her radio ads are as tedious as they are ubiquitous. She's currently traveling the country to peddle her new book of clichés. After Tom Campbell jumped to the Senate race, I had hoped Poizner would make a stronger showing. Instead, he's imploding. Just as well. If Poizner thinks Whitman is nasty, he wouldn't last five minutes in a stand-up fight with Jerry Brown or the SEIU.