Oil spill could affect GOP race for CA governor

May 28, 2010 7:34:15 PM PDT
A new campaign finance report shows Republican Meg Whitman has now spent $80 million in her campaign for governor and most of it, $68 million, has come from her own pocket.

That's almost three times as much as rival Steve Poizner has contributed to his own campaign, but it's the oil spill in the gulf, still not completely plugged, that could prove to be the game changer in the GOP primary.

The spill in the gulf is changing minds about offshore oil drilling. Whitman says it has raised her opposition and her Republican opponent Steve Poizner is going the other way.

At a town hall meeting in San Carlos, Poizner wanted to talk about cracking down on illegal immigration, but the spill in the gulf has seeped into the governor's race with Poizner calling for calm.

"I do think that we should learn as much as we can from the mistakes that British Petroleum has made, but we need to continue moving forward in a safe way with offshore oil drilling," said Poizner.

That has been a manta of the Republican right: "Drill baby, drill."

Sarah Palin and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, made it a center piece of the Republican platform in 2008.

"We will drill new wells offshore and we will drill them now. We will drill them now," said McCain.

At the 2008 Republican convention, Whitman praised McCain, applauded his speech, and on Friday said she's never supported his call for offshore drilling.

"Actually, I haven't changed my position on oil drilling. I have historically been against oil drilling," said Whitman.

Whitman told reporters the spill in the gulf has raised her concerns.

"Given what's happened in the gulf, I would say the bar has been raised on the certainty one would need to obviate any environmental risk," said Whitman.

Whitman's opposition is reflected in new poll conducted this week: 50 percent of Californians polled are opposed to offshore drilling; that is a turnaround from a year ago when 51 percent were in favor of it.

"It's very clear the polls are already turning," said ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain.

Cain says as the disaster unfolds this summer, so will its political impact.

"If Poizner were to go ahead in the November election with the position of offshore oil drilling, I think that would be a dead on arrival candidacy," said Cain.

As for Whitman, her opposition to offshore drilling will play better against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown.

But in Redwood City she was telling concrete company employees environmental regulations get in the way of jobs.

"So on my first day in office, I want to put a moratorium on all new regulations," said Whitman.

Cain says that's a risky line in the wake of the financial crisis, the Massey coal mine explosion, and now the gulf oil spill, where in each case a lack of government regulation is seen as part of the problem.

It also shifts the debate somewhat onto territory that's more favorable than Jerry Brown than where the Republicans would like to have the discussion in November," said Cain.

The latest campaign finance report shows Meg Whitman is spending a $500,000 a day. Steve Poizner's campaign pales in comparison at a mere $86,000 a day on average for the past two months.


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