Whitman Campaign Aide Asked Poizner to Quit Race

Poizner campaign accuses Whitman of "intimidation"

By Jackson West
|  Monday, Feb 1, 2010  |  Updated 5:56 PM PDT
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Whitman Campaign Aide Asked Poizner to Quit Race

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner feels intimidate by Whitman consultant Mike Murphy's requests he surrender the race -- possible in exchange for support in a 2012 senate run.

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In a strongly worded email, Meg Whitman for Governor campaign consultant Mike Murphy asked Steve Poizner to drop out of the Republican gubernatorial primary in exchange for support in a 2012 senate campaign:

I hate the idea of us each spending $20 million beating on the other in primary, only to have a damaged nominee. And we can spend $40M+ tearing up Steve if we must; bad for him, bad for us, and a crazy waste to tear up a guy with great future statewide potential -- really the only guy on the CA GOP bench for the future.

We could unite entire party behind Steve right now to build a serious race against Diane F[einstein] in 2012.

Murphy signed off with, "Thought I'd try one more time before it's 1914," alluding to the start of World War I and its deadly trench warfare.

The letter, dated January 27, was sent only a few weeks after Whitman doubled down on contributions to her own campaign with another $19 million. Poizner suggested that Murphy even more pointed language in earlier conversations between the campaigns.

Poizner, citing a number of state and national election codes, is asking state and federal officials to investigate the matter, including Attorney General Jerry Brown, a likely gubernatorial candidate himself.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Whitman campaign "laughed off" the allegations.  Calls in to the Whitman campaign and Attorney General's office garnered no immediate comment, but promises of official statements by day's end.

With Tom Campbell making the switch to the Republican primary for senate, it was widely believe that Poizner, who's trailing Whitman significantly in the polls, would drop the nice-guy image.

And this certainly seems calculated to play to the perception that there is a "monster" side to Whitman -- an allegation lodged by Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster in the civil trial between his company and Whitman's former employer eBay late last year.

Certainly longtime campaign operator Murphy isn't known for playing softball, either.

Meanwhile, the Whitman campaign introduced a new radio advertisement today featuring former Governor Pete Wilson appearing to endorse Whitman.  According to Wilson: 

Some say California is ungovernable. Well, I know better. You bet California can be fixed with the right gutsy leader. And her name is Meg Whitman.

Update: In an official response to the accusations, Murphy is "starting to worry about Commissioner's mental condition," and accused Poizner of being a "stalking horse for Jerry Brown." He offered to cooperate fully by providing information about his contacts with Poizner's campaign, should any parties care to look into the matter (and keep it alive for another few news cycles).

Update: A spokesperson for the Attorney General's office stated in an email response: "We received the letter and are reviewing it."

Jackson West figures an appeal for the good of the party should probably come from the party, and not from a high-level Whitman campaign strategist looking for a clear path to the nomination.

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