GOP candidates turn to personal pitches in final days before primary

As the final weekend of their primary campaigns drew to a close, Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate crisscrossed the state Sunday appealing to farmers and worshipers, in person and by telephone, hoping to persuade the last undecided voters that they share their values.

In the race for governor, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner sought votes for Tuesday’s election at a church in Norwalk and at a pro- Israel rally in Los Angeles, while former EBay executive Meg Whitman spoke at a farm near Fresno, then flew north to hold an event at a ranch outside Sacramento.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief who leads in polls for the Republican nomination for Senate, campaigned near the coast while her rival Tom Campbell, a former congressman, reached out to voters from his home by telephone. Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine, who is also vying for the Senate nomination, spoke at the demonstration for Israel.

Though many Californians vote by mail and have already cast ballots, Republican ads continued to fill the airwaves and volunteers for the candidates worked at phone banks to attract those who plan to vote in person.


Democrats in the two races rested easy — at least for the moment. Neither Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who is running for governor, nor incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer faces viable primary opposition.

Poizner, who trails Whitman in the polls, spoke at the New Harvest Christian Fellowship in Norwalk, an expansive evangelical church with an espresso bar and valets moving cars parked three deep. Speaking to the mostly Latino congregants, he departed from his campaign’s main emphasis — illegal immigration — and focused on social issues.

He said his views on matters such as same-sex marriage and abortion were forged by his experiences raising his daughter, Rebecca, now 18, who he said was named after the biblical figure who married Isaac. He did not mention that he favors abortion rights or that he had said in a previous campaign that he opposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“Being a dad has taught me exactly why gay marriage is wrong,” Poizner told the hundreds of parishioners after they took communion. “I’ve learned firsthand the importance of kids having a mom and a dad.”


Later, he appeared outside the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles at a rally to show support for the country amid an outcry over its deadly raid on a Palestinian aid flotilla last week. Poizner told the crowd that he had persuaded more than 1,000 California insurance companies not to do business with Iran, which he called “a huge threat to its own people, to its neighbors and to the state of Israel.”

Whitman went to the Sacramento suburbs, speaking to a crowd that was walled off in part by hay trucks and tractors and other farm equipment. It was a low-key affair, with a band called Moonshine warming up the crowd with ‘60s music and a strong breeze blowing up dust.

Whitman was introduced by former Gov. Pete Wilson, her campaign chairman, who joked that the media used to accuse him of bullying lawmakers.

“If they thought I was tough, they ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said.

The crowd cheered when the candidate noted her lead in the polls, but she implored them to vote on election day, and to bring friends, saying, “It isn’t over until it is over.” She joked that her husband, who attended the rally, had asked her Sunday morning how they should spend their 30th anniversary Monday.

“I said, ‘How about we go to five cities in California in 10 hours and eat a lot of turkey sandwiches?’ ” Whitman told the crowd.

Stephen Leonard, a 59-year-old veterinarian, said he was unclear about Whitman’s position on illegal immigration, despite the millions of dollars she has spent on advertisements.

“Nobody answers any questions,” Leonard said. “Poizner puts up these ads with her direct quotes and then she refutes it. What is the truth?”


In the Senate race, Fiorina spent the day on the Central Coast with phone bank volunteers in San Luis Obispo and Montecito. In borrowed space at a Sotheby’s realty office in Montecito, they greeted her with Santa Maria strawberries and a jar of homemade raspberry jam.

As she made the rounds, volunteers called voters with their pitch that she was the “conservative candidate who could beat Barbara Boxer.”

One worker told Fiorina that she’d been won over by the candidate’s comments at an earlier visit to a Montecito Republican women’s club: “It’s going to take a woman to unseat that woman,” a reference to Boxer.

“Well sometimes, you know, you’ve got to fight like a girl,” Fiorina responded, laughing.

Campbell attempted to reach likely voters from his San Jose home through an automated call that dialed 200,000 of them and asked them to stay on the line for a live exchange with the candidate.

For an hour and a half, he fielded questions on his plans to deal with illegal immigration, restrain federal spending and stop the flow of jobs to China and India. A moderate, he argued that he would be the strongest contender against Boxer, more palatable than the conservative DeVore and Fiorina to politically unaffiliated voters who can swing a general election.

One such voter, Joni Zunino of San Rafael, said she wanted a candidate who could support President Obama on some issues.

“Can you not be part of the Republican bloc, and be a free thinker and work for the people of the United States rather than the corporations?” she asked.


Campbell promised to “vote in the best interest of my state and my country — that comes first.”

At the rally for Israel, DeVore gave a thundering speech that was cheered loudly by hundreds of protesters, many waving Israeli and American flags.

“Let us say this unequivocally and unashamedly and emphatically: What Israel did to the Gaza flotilla was right, it was legal and it was moral,” he said. “It is never wrong to blockade a terrorist state.”

Times staff writers Evan Halper in Elk Grove, Michael Rothfeld in Sacramento and Alexandra Zavis in Norwalk contributed to this report.