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SACRAMENTO BEE: At last drama in GOP primary

  • Insurance Commissioner Steve Poziner, who is running for the Republican nomination for Governor against former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, discuss his campaign while appearing at the California Newspaper Publishers Association Government Affairs Day in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. At right is Los Angeles Times editorial writer Robert Greene who moderated the event.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

This editorial is from the Sacramento Bee:

Up until this week, it appeared that the front-runners in the California's governor's race would enjoy not just a cakewalk, but a sleepwalk. Suddenly, challenger Steve Poizner has gone and shaken up the somnolence in one primary. He's accused the GOP front-runner, Meg Whitman, of being a bully.

For the sake of entertainment, we say bully for him.

Poizner, the state insurance commissioner, came across an e-mail that Mike Murphy, an adviser to Whitman, sent to Poizner's pollster last week asking, "Is there anything we can do to get SP to reconsider this race?" The e-mail also stated that Whitman, the eBay billionaire, was preparing to spend $40 million or more "tearing up Steve if we must."

On Monday, Poizner went on the offensive. He called on the FBI to investigate what he called "an attempt to effectively manipulate the election process." He also noted that Murphy had told one of Poizner's senior advisers that he would put the insurance commissioner "through the wood chipper" if he did not drop out of the race.

Usually when someone is accused of criminal extortion by a state constitutional officer, he keeps his mouth shut. Not Murphy. After Poizner called for the FBI investigation, Murphy effectively suggested that Poizner might need to find space on a psychiatrist's couch.

"I'm starting to worry about the commissioner's mental condition," Murphy said in a statement.

Wait a minute: It took Murphy this long to wonder about Poizner's mental state? Heck, anyone crazy enough to desire the California governor's office is deserving of a screening. Whitman herself needs to schedule an appointment. So does Jerry Brown, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The Poizner-Murphy feud is a gift that keeps on giving, partly because it provides so much fodder for commentators. On Monday, Republican political consultant Ray McNally called Poizner's action "a mouse-like stunt." Former federal prosecutor Donald Heller, meanwhile, took a shot at Murphy, saying, "It takes a true imbecile" to put this kind of threat in writing.

No doubt, many voters would prefer that candidates stick to the issues and devote their campaigns to matters of substance instead of slime. Yet who knows? Perhaps this tempest will engage voters in a GOP race that, unlike the Democratic contest, offers some competition and choices.

One can only hope.


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