Commentary: Whitman scores indirect win in GOP debate

Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, two erstwhile centrist Republicans running for governor, spent the weekend in a race to the right, each trying to persuade delegates to a state GOP convention that he or she was more conservative than the other.

The political flanking maneuvers continued Monday when the two wealthy Silicon Valley types engaged in their first debate before an audience of affluent, influential – and moderate – Republicans in Orange County, albeit with different tactical objectives.

Whitman, the one-time boss of eBay who has already spent tens of millions of her own dollars to forge ahead in the polls, needed to show that she could think on her feet and would be a worthy opponent for the glib and very experienced Democratic candidate, Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Poizner, the state insurance commissioner, needed to do something dramatic to tarnish the aura of inevitability that Whitman has cultivated with her massive campaign spending, create some lasting media buzz, and climb into contention.

By those criteria, the hourlong debate was an indirect Whitman win, since she handled herself well. Poizner, while taking jabs at her on such red-meat conservative issues as taxes, abortion and illegal immigration, didn't score any solid punches, much less a knockout.

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