SANTA CLARA -- So what did we learn on this first day of the 2010 winter California Republican Party convention? In a nutshell, that messaging is king... and that part of that message is candidates love reporters.
And press conferences. And questions. Lots of them.Sure, that last part of the daily lesson was punctuated by the suddenly loquacious Meg Whitman, the current GOP gubernatorial frontrunner who worked mightily to stop the presses on the 'I don't do press conferences' story of earlier this week by holding not one, but two chit chats with assembled reporters and several individual interviews with others, your blogging radio reporter included.
None of the chit chats were on the schedule, but rather were "impromptu" affairs that featured the former eBay CEO apologizing for the Tuesday campaign miscue heard nationwide, attacking her rival Steve Poizner, and attempting to answer every policy and political question in between. The campaign team insisted the Q&As were always going to be part of the game plan at this point; regardless, it was a day that may have put an end to the characterization of a media shy business executive -- a story her rivals have playing to the hilt these last few days.
That's not to imply Whitman was the only one doing the talking. Fellow guv wannabe Poizner convened a news conference that easily lasted longer than any in recent memory. On the Senate side, candidate Tom Campbell did his own mea culpa to reporters on the subject of a controversial former Muslim supporter, while the other two Senate challengers each meet with the press tomorrow... once we've recovered from asking so many questions today.
In the contest for governor, it became clear that the real battle at this point is over what kind of conservatism matters... and who has it. State GOP confabs for years have been what some jokingly called circular firing squads -- where moderates and conservatives beat each others brains out all while the cameras rolled. But at this event, it's clear the conservatives have won. Let's face it, the state's moderate GOP governor is a no-show; party leaders dismissed the issue by saying Governor Schwarzenegger has all kinds of budget issues to busy himself with. But the Guv left the state earlier today.For Steve Poizner, the contest to be the most conservative candidate feels like the person playing poker who pushes all their chips into the middle of the table and dares everyone else -- in this case, the conservative GOP base -- to challenge his right to be there. Poizner endorsed not only a return to GOP strategies for denying government services to undocumented immigrant men, women, and children, but also keeping those children out of California schools (though he admitted federal laws won't necessary let that happen).
"It's time to change the rules," said Poizner. "This is about ending the madness, so that people don't come here in the first place." On the issue of welfare-to-work, Poizner endorsed the scrapping of all welfare assistance for children after two years.
Whitman later rejected Poizner's position on the issue of illegal immigrant children. "I am not in the business of punishing kids for the sins of their parents," she said, though she did endorse ways to crack down on illegal immigration. And on welfare, she again rejected an early reduction of assistance for kids, focusing instead on adults.
Instead, the former eBay chief focused her message on fiscal conservatism, an area that Poizner also believes he's in the right. So to speak. The insurance commissioner is calling for a larger tax cut than is Whitman, but Whitman touts her endorsement by the state's leading anti-tax group, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, as proof she's in the right. (Poizner, returning serve, touts his endorsement from the conservative California Republican Assembly.)
Whitman continued to push the point that Poizner's views on several issues have changed over the years, to which the incumbent insurance commissioner said: "She doesn't want people to focus on her controversial background."
And so it goes.
On a lighter note, both candidates got off some amusing one liners today. From Whitman, it came in her dinnertime speech to convention goers when she jabbed at presumptive Democratic nominee Jerry Brown: "Moonbeams are, after all, fleeting things, and disappear before they can be pinned down."
And from Poizner, after a reporter mentioned that Whitman says she voted for SP in his unsuccessful bid for a Silicon Valley Assembly seat in 2004: "I can predict this -- Meg Whitman is going to vote for me again in 2010."
More tomorrow on the brief sit-down interview I did with Whitman, and some of the state budget issues we talked about. In the meantime, here's a quick video clip of the day's final media availability with Whitman.