GOP hopeful seen taking the middle road in race to succeed Gov. Schwarzenegger

Southern California Republicans are uneasy with the “middle of the road” strategy adopted by former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R) in the race to succeed California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

“We’ve seen that before. Case and point would be [Richard] Riordan’s strategy when he ran for governor,” said John Cozza, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. A moderate Republican who served as mayor of Los Angeles, Riordan touted his business acumen during the 2002 gubernatorial Republican primary but lost to conservative Bill Simon. Riordan "ignored the base and focused on a general election strategy and we saw how well that worked out for him,” Cozza said.


Cozza pointed to similarities in Whitman’s campaign. “It seems like her consultants are taking her down the middle of the road,” he said. Republicans “want her to come out stronger on fiscal issues.”

Citing a scheduling conflict, Whitman recently declined an invitation from the Republican Party of Los Angeles County Central Committee to speak at a candidates forum Jan. 14. Her primary opponents -- entrepreneur and former state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner (R) and former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) – are set to attend.

Cozza said Whitman is missing an opportunity to court some of the party’s conservative activists. “Most of the people that are active and that are traveling and attending our forums are the conservative people, the tea party people, the patriots,” he said, adding there are some 1.1 million Republicans in the county. “I think it’s a missed opportunity [for her],” he said.

The Whitman campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Whitman has run a steady stream of radio ads since September but she has not been a ubiquitous presence at grass-roots events, Cozza said.

“It seems like she spends a lot of her time with the Sacramento consultants, and a lot of her time on the radio,” he said. “She’s done a great job of securing a lot of the talent on the campaign side but what I see from the other candidates is they’re concentrating more on the grass-roots.” In November, Whitman poached veteran consultant Mike Murphy from Poizner’s campaign. The move prompted the Poizner camp to leak a memo Murphy wrote in July 2008, calling for an early grass-roots push to win over the GOP's conservative base, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Still, Whitman’s strategy has worked so far.

In a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California released in mid-December, Whitman had the support of 32 percent of likely Republican voters, compared with 12 percent for Campbell, and 8 percent for Poizner. Close to half of the Republican respondents said they were still undecided.

Whitman and Poizner are self-financing their campaigns -- each to the tune of almost $20 million. Campbell’s campaign is reported to have raised close to $1 million.