Republican gubernatorial candidates Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman have feuded over which one is a real conservative, but check the expiration date on that label.
Whoever emerges from the June 8 primary must pivot away from the conservative tag in the months that follow. Winning the general election will require substantial support from independent voters in California, with GOP voter registration below 31 percent.
Poizner has a tougher challenge in appealing to centrists after spending the primary race trying to establish conservative credentials on issues from immigration to the environment.
Whitman had more freedom to take moderate positions with a primary lead once as large as 50 percentage points. At one point, she turned her attention toward Democrat Jerry Brown, who faces no serious opposition in his primary.
But with polls now tightening, she has to reiterate her fiscal conservative positions and continue vying for votes on the right.
"It's certainly going to be a line of attack for Jerry Brown to point out that both Poizner and Whitman have taken positions that are more conservative," said Bruce Cain, a UC Berkeley political science professor and director of the University of California Washington Center.
Poizner has made illegal immigration a key issue. He has vowed to cut off state services for illegal immigrants within federal guidelines. He has embraced a new Arizona law giving local authorities greater authority to check immigration status. Whitman said Sunday she would oppose that idea in California.
Some suspect that Poizner's views have turned off Latino voters, who made up 19 percent of the California electorate in 2008, according to an Associated Press exit poll.
"Bluntly, I think Steve Poizner has become unelectable in November," said Tony Quinn, a political analyst and former Republican legislative aide. "I think the Whitman crowd has been more careful not to get themselves in that position, which is why she sort of ducks all of the toxic issues."
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