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Meg Whitman: A New Era in California or Just Opportunistic Politics

Wais Hassan: Whitman's Spanish-language makeover in the general election is a major shift from the tone that she struck in the GOP primary, when the challenge from conservative Steve Poizner pushed her to the right on the issue.

Meg Whitman Changes her Position on Immigration for Spanish-Language TV/Radio

Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman's courting of Hispanic voters in California has recently been garnering a great deal of attention by numerous media outlets. Whitman already made headlines by spending millions of her personal wealth to win the California Republican nomination in June. She followed the June win with an early blitz of anti-Brown television and radio commercials airing in primetime.

Part of Whitman's blitz has targeted the Latino electorate as she rolled out a number of Spanish-language ads that touted her opposition to Arizona's SB 1070 and Proposition 187. Whitman seemed supportive of a path to legalization when asked about it in October 2009. She stated, "Can we get a fair program where people stand at the back of the line, they pay a fine, they do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization?"

But Whitman's Spanish-language makeover in the general election is a major shift from the tone that she struck in the GOP primary, when the challenge from conservative Steve Poizner pushed her to the right on the issue. During the primary, she touted her opposition to illegal immigration, screened an ad featuring Pete Wilson and a border fence, and accused Poizner of supporting "amnesty." Whitman also recently stated on the conservative John & Ken radio show that, "I don't think we should have blanket amnesty, and I am not for a path to citizenship. I have been very, very clear on that."

Thus far, Whitman's bipolar message on immigration has not hurt her in recent polling. Whitman has seen a 14-point gain among Latinos in a July Field Poll, propelled by TV ads, billboards and a Spanish-language website. The latest August Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Brown with 43% support and Whitman earning 41% of the vote. Six percent (6%) prefer another candidate, and 10% are undecided.

Interestingly, Survey USA, another polling agency examining the race, released a poll in July showing Whitman leading Brown by a slight percentage. There is still a lot of time before November and there is likely to be a number of political fireworks in a state as bankrupt and politically dysfunctional as California. One thing that is clear is that to have a shot at winning the California election the gubernatorial candidate must garner a significant percentage of the Latino vote.

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"Any Republican running statewide has to get at least one-third of the Latino vote," said Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican consultant and publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book. "Jerry Brown very, very badly needs to aggressively go after that Latino vote." Brown made his first aggressive push for Latino support on July 8th, during a press conference at Cal State LA in which he was flanked by a number of Latino leaders from the state's legislature.

At the press conference Brown pointed to some of the immigration stances Whitman took when she was rallying support during the Republican primary. Brown noted that Whitman has said that students who are illegal immigrants should not be allowed to attend public universities. "That's cruel," he said. "There's something really not very human about that."

Through such campaigning Brown will likely shore up some support among the Latino electorate by November. However, Whitman's campaign hopes she can effectively straddle the fence around the immigration issue without losing substantial support from either Latinos or conservatives planning to vote in November. Some factors definitely play to her advantage as she campaigns with Lieutenant Gubernatorial candidate Abel Maldonado, a popular Latino businessman who previously worked in the legislature. Whitman will also be the only major right-leaning candidate running for governor on the November ballot.

However, some California conservatives have vowed to stay away in November rather than casting a vote for someone they feel would not act aggressively to curb illegal immigration. Count Raymond Herrera, founder of We The People, California's Crusader--an anti-illegal immigration group, is a voter who won't cast a ballot for Whitman due to her immigration stance. She says, 'I'm against amnesty,' but she also says, 'I'm against S.B. 1070,'" said Herrera. "She doesn't care about illegal immigrants coming into California. She just cares about becoming governor . . . It's impossible to be on both sides of the political line on this issue.

Herrera may have a point, as Whitman could be another political opportunist willing to do and say anything to gain power. Her lack of a voting record supports such a conclusion. Furthermore, her advisors did a poor job attempting to explain Whitman's inconsistency. Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei argued that when Whitman stated she was for 'a path to legalization' she never meant 'citizenship'. Pompei states that Whitman was, "talking about a temporary guest worker program. She supports a comprehensive solution that secures the borders first and includes a temporary guest worker program. What she said today is entirely consistent with what she has said before." Both sides of the immigration debate will need some clarity on her exact policy positions before casting their vote in November.

wais hassan

Wais Hassan

Wais Hassan joined the Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) team in April 2010 as the Government Relations intern. He studied public policy issues, including immigration reform, while completing a Master’s of Public Administration from USC in 2008. Prior to this internship in DC, Wais worked in the California legislature as a legislative aide for Assemblymember Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana).