By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Friday, May. 21, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Jerry Brown is lovin’ it.

The Democratic attorney general can take his nomination for governor for granted while watching two wealthy GOP rivals spend millions of dollars beating up on each other for not being right-wing enough.

Former eBay honcho Meg Whitman seemed to have the Republican nomination sewed up and was beginning to refocus her campaign on Brown when foe Steve Poizner suddenly came alive, going on the attack as she defended her ties to Goldman Sachs, a poster child for rapacious banking.

Whitman and Poizner, the state insurance commissioner, have been hammering each other for the past month over immigration, global warming, taxes and other hot-button issues – in essence, accusing the other of being a closet liberal.

The Poizner-Whitman duel has become a real race with nearly a third of Republican voters still undecided, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll. The contest is reminiscent of the “murder-suicide pact” between wealthy Democrats Al Checchi and Jane Harman when they ran for governor in 1998.

Both Whitman and Poizner were Silicon Valley moderates in previous lives. But the PPIC poll indicates that in recasting themselves as red-blooded conservatives, they risk alienating the moderates and independents whose votes will be decisive in the November election. Brown now leads in both of those groups, albeit narrowly, after previously trailing Whitman in PPIC’s matchup polls.

Of course, Brown is already exploiting this ideological wedge, telling students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus this week, “If you know how to write and think, look at those (Poizner and Whitman) ads, and do the exact opposite,” adding, “The apostles of darkness and ignorance are well-heeled, and they have great political consultants.”

Whitman still leads Poizner among Republicans in the PPIC poll completed last weekend, but her lead has dropped since March from 50 percentage points (61 percent to 11 percent) to just nine points (38 percent to 29 percent). The ranks of undecided Republicans have also increased.

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