Steve Poizner

Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer
Created: 05/20/2010 09:49:16 PM PDT

Now that Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner is catching up to his primary opponent in the polls, experts say he needs to focus less on attack ads and give voters a positive reason to vote for him in the June 8 primary.

Poizner, the state insurance commissioner who is running governor against former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman in the GOP primary, has benefited from his strategy attacking Whitman, analysts say.

But what voters need now is a reason to vote for him, said Matt Schumsky, a Republican strategist and president of Schumsky Political Consulting.

“In such a gloomy economy, people really want to hear what people are going to do,” Schumsky said. “They want to hear the positive forward messages as to how they’re going to cure the problem and help what people are going through right now.

“So I think that if they saturate the airwaves with some positive messages, also let’s say even more positive messages, I think that will help both campaigns.”

A poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Poizner trailing Whitman by 9 percentage points – 38percent to 29percent – among Republicans who said they were likely to vote in the June 8 primary.

A similar poll taken two months ago showed Whitman in the lead by 50 points.

Since then, Poizner has begun spending millions of dollars on television and radio advertising, much of it directed at Whitman and criticizing her position on illegal immigration, her ties to Goldman Sachs and her poor voting record.

Both candidates have funneled millions of dollars into the race. Whitman, a billionaire, has donated $68million to her campaign from her personal fortune. Poizner, a multimillionaire technology entrepreneur, has given $24.4million to his campaign.

Both candidates had different campaign strategies. Whitman came out early and heavy in order to gain name recognition, while Poizner waited.

“Poizner’s people, their strategy from the get-go was kind of the old standard philosophy in political consulting and that is most voters don’t pay attention to the actual race until three months before the election,” Schumsky said.

The timing of the Arizona immigration law has also helped Poizner gain some steam, said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

“The best thing that happened to Steve Poizner is Arizona,” Pitney said. “And the opponents of the Arizona law have raised the profile of the entire issue of illegal immigration in a way that they probably didn’t intend because they found that most Americans support the Arizona law.”

Whitman has come out against the Arizona law. Poizner came out in favor of the law after several revisions were made to address the concern of racial profiling.

Poizner’s immigration policies were made known early in his campaign, Schumsky said.

Whitman’s campaign has since started running ads representing a much tougher stance on immigration.

The real benefactor from the Republican gubernatorial primary campaign is state Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is running virtually unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

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