Joe Garofoli, Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writers

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s lead in the Republican race for California governor has shrunk dramatically as the billionaire candidate has been battered by her ties to Goldman Sachs, new Republican and Democratic polls suggest.

Whitman’s lead over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, which approached 50 points two months ago, has tightened to just 8-10 points just days until voters begin casting absentee ballots for the June 8 primary, according to polls by both Poizner’s campaign and by Democratic labor organizations opposing her candidacy.

Mike Murphy, Whitman’s top strategist, downplayed Poizner’s suggestions that the race was tightening to single digits, saying her campaign’s polls do not reflect that.

Since Friday, Poizner has run a TV ad statewide called “Vulture,” which depicts Whitman as an executive who profited from the nationwide financial meltdown through her Wall Street connections. In their televised gubernatorial debate Sunday, Poizner attacked Whitman for receiving sweetheart stock deals from the firm.

Starting in 2001, Whitman served on Goldman’s board of directors. She left the board 15 months later, in 2002, after she was singled out in a congressional probe of bond underwriters and the practice of “spinning” – a now-banned practice in which Goldman and other firms allegedly traded access to hot initial public offerings for bond business.

Whitman said Sunday she “did not do anything wrong.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil fraud charges against Goldman on April 16.

But Murphy claimed Wednesday in a telephone call with reporters that Poizner had also spun such sweetheart IPO deals with Goldman – a charge Poizner strongly denied during a visit Wednesday to The Chronicle’s editorial board.

Poizner, a Silicon Valley multimillionaire who sold his high-tech company in 2000 for $1 billion, also hinted that he was ready to invest more of his personal wealth into the campaign.

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