By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The Republican duel for governor turned nasty – and thus became much more interesting – Monday when Steve Poizner accused rival Meg Whitman of using threats and bribes to get him out of the race, and her campaign questioned Poizner’s mental health.

Poizner released an e-mail from Mike Murphy, a top Whitman campaign adviser, to Poizner’s pollster last week asking, “Is there anything we can do to get SP to reconsider this race?” and suggesting that Whitman, the very wealthy former eBay honcho, “can spend $40M+ tearing up Steve if we must.”

A mudslinging primary battle would be “bad for him, bad for us,” Murphy continued, suggesting that if Poizner would drop out, “we could unite entire party behind Steve right now to build a serious race against (Sen. Dianne Feinstein) in 2012.”

“Thought I’d try one more time before it’s 1914,” Murphy concluded, referring to World War I.

Poizner, the state insurance commissioner and also a very wealthy former technology executive, said it was the latest in a series of moves by the Whitman campaign to force him out. “This is not politics as usual; this is a threat,” said Poizner.

He sent letters to federal and state law enforcement agencies, including the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor, Attorney General Jerry Brown, asking for an investigation of “improper conduct.”

Murphy responded in kind, terming Poizner’s charges “ridiculous” and adding, “I’m starting to worry about commissioner’s mental condition.”

Murphy said he e-mailed Poizner pollster Jan van Lohuizen” after hearing that Van Lohuizen “had been expressing grave doubts about the viability of the faltering Poizner campaign.”

“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,” Murphy said, “especially since Commissioner Poizner has been loudly threatening to run a multi-million dollar negative campaign against Meg Whitman for months.”

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