Meg Whitman launches searing attack in Republican convention speech

Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman launched a searing attack against Democratic rival Jerry Brown in hopes of rallying the party faithful as California Republicans opened their convention Friday night.

Brown is a career politician whose election would guarantee higher taxes and more government spending, she charged.

“Finally, after 40 years in politics, three presidential runs, four years as attorney general, four years as secretary of state, eight years as mayor of Oakland and two terms as governor, we once and for all are going to say goodbye to Jerry Brown’s failed ideas and broken promises,” she told several hundred attendees.

“Jerry Brown is a career politician who actually once said that technology isn’t so great, it costs jobs. Can you imagine?” Whitman said. “It’s remarks like that that underscore Jerry Brown’s radical approach and failed philosophies — philosophies that California simply can’t afford right now.”

The campaign played a short video mocking Brown’s previous political runs, including a quote from former President Bill Clinton saying during the 1992 presidential primary that Brown was untrustworthy. And Whitman’s aides distributed buttons that depicted Brown’s face on an old-fashioned television set and read, “Nobody Likes Reruns.”

Brown’s campaign accused Whitman of continuing to misrepresent his record to deflect attention from her own flip-flops on issues such as immigration.

“Whitman has to lie about Jerry Brown, because the truth about her is she can’t be trusted,” said Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford. “Not even Meg Whitman knows what Meg Whitman would do as governor.”

In a dead heat with Brown after plowing $104 million of her personal fortune into her campaign, Whitman hopes to energize the 1,000 members of the party’s rank and file who attended the party’s semi-annual convention. But she faces some skepticism.

In the primary campaign, the party’s most conservative faction was hostile to both Whitman and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, two businesswomen who were largely unknown political quantities, making their first runs for elected office. While the conservatives have largely embraced Fiorina, a segment remains unconvinced about Whitman.

That concern was palpable Friday, fueled by Whitman’s softening tone on illegal immigration and climate change since winning the GOP primary in June. They fear she will be a reprise of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a candidate for whom they had high hopes but whose path, once elected, made him so unwelcome in this crowd that he missed this convention and the last one.

“He lost a lot of people here,” said Joe Ludwig, a delegate from Riverside. “Our feeling toward Meg is: ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ ”

Ludwig and his wife rejected an invitation from a Whitman aide to help welcome the candidate as she arrived Friday afternoon at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

Whitman made no mention of such differences during her speech Friday night, instead calling for focus at a time when Republicans are more energized than they have been in nearly two decades.

“We can do this, I know we can turn California around,” she said. “We can make the Golden State golden again.”

Whitman planned to leave Saturday morning, while Fiorina meets with at least six different coalitions of voters and gives her own speech to the convention.

“They’re keeping [Whitman] isolated, and that is wrong,” said Celeste Greig, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative faction. “How can we go and be passionate about her and tell our neighbors that they are wrong, that they have to vote for her because the alternative will be even worse?”

Whitman said she had other campaign-related duties to attend to."I’ve got some things I gotta do tomorrow,” she told reporters Friday afternoon. “Tomorrow really is Carly’s day.”

Thad Kousser, a political scientist at UC San Diego, said Whitman was playing it safe.

“She doesn’t want to antagonize her base or swing voters,” he said. “The best thing for her to do is have a staged appearance and get back on TV.”

Even though the candidate won’t be present for most of the convention, conservative activists believe she has a hand in trying to stop them from voting on a resolution supporting Arizona’s controversial crackdown on illegal immigration.

“That’s how politics works,” said Whitman, who opposes the Arizona law. “We’re working not to block but to see if we can get our point of view across.”

Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.