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Whitman’s new strategist advised her opponent 16 months ago

November 24, 2009 |  5:49 pm

Republican Meg Whitman announced today that she has hired top GOP strategist Mike Murphy to her growing campaign for California governor, calling him a “trusted friend.”

But Murphy, a former confidant of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, worked hand-in-glove with one of Whitman’s chief opponents, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, less than 16 months ago.

Murphy, who offered the Poizner campaign unpaid advice, wrote a memo to Poizner and his then-campaign chief in July 2008 about “the best way to win the primary,” according to a copy provided to The Times by the Poizner campaign.

“Who will be our star businesswoman surrogate to get into Meg’s space a bit?” Murphy wrote, an apparent reference to Whitman’s former post as EBay’s chief executive.

Murphy’s memo addresses little of Whitman’s then-unannounced campaign, instead focusing on ways to improve Poizner’s image: needing to be the “brainiest/smart guy,”  possibly taking Spanish lessons, updating his “hair, clothes etc.”

The memo pulls back the curtain on the mercenary nature of campaign strategy work, with consultants and advisers hopping from one candidate (and paycheck) to the next.

Whitman, a billionaire from her EBay days, has hired an army of consultants as she has plotted her run for governor. Sarah Pompei, a spokeswoman for her, said the campaign was aware that Murphy had strategized for Poizner last year.

“He now believes Meg Whitman is the strongest Republican candidate in the race to win” both the primary and general election, Pompei said. “We’re very excited to have him come aboard.”

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento