‘A long time ago, we used to be friends…’

(Headline h/t to the Dandy Warhols.)

Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Steve Poizner’s campaign issued a communiqué a short while ago crowing over a new poll KABC/SurveyUSA poll showing that primary rival Meg Whitman leads him 49 percent to 27 percent, a 22-point gap.

And a new Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research poll shows Meg Whtiman leading Poizner 47 percent to 19 percent, a 28-point gap. Both these polls would sound bad, until you remember last month’s Field Poll showing Whitman leading Poizner 63 percent to 14 percent, a 49-point gap.

Poizner’s camp says he’s closing the gap. Communications director Jarrod Agen said:

“Meg Whitman has spent record amounts of her Wall Street billions to tell a record number of lies, but all of Goldman Sachs’ money and all the Queen’s men won’t be enough to put this rookie candidate back together again. Seven years ago, Republicans were fooled by marketing and a celebrity. It isn’t happening twice.”

But lest we forget, Poizner must’ve been among those “fooled by marketing and a celebrity,” and it wasn’t even seven years ago.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed Poizner as he spent almost $14.9 million of his own money in a failed attempt to win an Assembly seat in 2004. From our May 2004 story on the endorsement:

Poizner, a former high-tech entrepreneur and teacher who has modeled his campaign on Schwarzenegger’s moderate conservatism, hopes to capture some of the energy for change that swept the governor into office last October.

“I think it will be a huge boost,” Poizner said of the endorsement. “Democrats, independents and Republicans have been very impressed with what (Schwarzenegger) has done over the last several months.”

Poizner said the endorsement gives him political credibility and shows he will be able to effectively work with the governor — something, he said, his Democratic rival cannot claim. Mark Watson, the former chairman of the San Mateo County Republican Party, said the endorsement will have practical benefits for Poizner’s campaign.

And, from our July 2004 profile of Poizner:

The 47-year old Los Gatos resident bills himself as a “reform” Republican, following in the footsteps of Bay Area legislators such as former Silicon Valley Congressmen Tom Campbell and Pete McCloskey, both of whom have endorsed his campaign.

Poizner believes the time is right on the Peninsula for a nonpartisan, moderate Republican who can reach across Sacramento’s often gaping political divide and work effectively with a Republican governor.

And though he’s received the blessing of the Republican establishment, Poizner has positioned himself as strongly independent. He’s rejected money from the party, corporations, political action committees and labor unions because he feels they corrupt the political process.

Poizner also has eschewed much of the traditional Republican platform. He’s pro-choice, for stem-cell research and is not yet sure whether he will cast his vote for President Bush or John Kerry in November’s election.

“I’ve been a moderate Republican all my life, but at times it’s been frustrating — especially in the last few years in the Bay Area and California,” Poizner said. “The party has gone much further to the right from where I am. My mission here is not only to provide some great leadership for this district and state, but I also want to revitalize the moderate wing of the Republican Party.”

Soon after Poizner lost that race, Schwarzenegger announced he would name Poizner to the state Public Utilities Commission, a $114,191-a-year post (which is, admittedly, peanuts to Poizner). Poizner withdrew from consideration for state Senate confirmation after learning his extensive investments would keep him from voting on telecommunications issues.

Schwarzenegger and Poizner still liked each other enough in 2005 so that the governor tapped Poizner to head the campaign for Proposition 77, a redistricting measure rejected by voters in the 2005 special election that Schwarzenegger called. And Schwarzenegger again endorsed Poizner for Insurance Commissioner in 2006.

Poizner’s hard turn to the right in this gubernatorial primary is well-documented, but rhetoric won’t change history – it’s only been in the last few years, as Poizner turned his eye toward the governor’s office, that he threw Schwarzenegger and his policies under the bus.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Tom

    This is really more about Arnie’s hard turn to the left, not Poizner’s turn to the right…which is realy more just a slow curve.