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Poizner goes door to door to 'set the record straight'

June 5, 2010 |  7:38 pm

Trailing Meg Whitman by double digits in the polls, Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner devoted the Saturday before the primary to clearing up his positions on taxes and immigration after an ad war that has cost tens of millions of dollars and left some voters confused and disgusted.

“We are the underdogs, of course, and we’re being outspent 4 to 1,” Poizner told a group of young volunteers in Santa Ana who said they had been corralled into precinct walking by the brother of a campaign staffer.

Predicting that Whitman would soon hit the $100-million mark, Poizner tasked his young foot soldiers with getting the word out: “There’s massive amounts of information out there — a lot of it false and wrong — and we have to set the record straight."

But the insurance commissioner’s challenges were evident in his brief encounters with voters during a walk around a tidy neighborhood in Irvine.

Setting a brisk pace in jeans and hiking boots with his shirt-sleeves rolled up to the elbows, Poizner said the low number of absentee ballots turned in so far show that voters “are confused and haven’t made up their minds.”   

His first hurdle, though, was finding voters to talk to on a sunny Saturday afternoon in June.

“We’re going to find somebody at home here,” he said after failing to get an answer at nearly half a dozen doors. Finally, Tri Nguyen, an 18-year-old college student, answered his knock and told the candidate he hadn’t had much time to follow the campaign because of finals.

“I know you’re going to be looking for a job here soon,” Poizner said. The choice, he continued, was a candidate like him who had worked in the private and public sectors, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, who he described as a “career politician,” or a political novice like Whitman, the former chief executive of EBay.

“I’m here right in the middle where I have this 20 years of experience at running companies — I know how to bring jobs back to California — but I have eight years of success in public service too,” Poizner told Nguyen. “This state is in a major meltdown right now, and we need a proven problem solver — a conservative, like I am — with a track record to help get California back on track.”

After that pitch, Nguyen said he “probably” would vote for Poizner. The insurance commissioner had more success several blocks away with Donna Gillespie, a 59-year-old real estate agent who said she’d initially favored Poizner, but shifted toward Whitman whose advertising she described as "very effective."

Gillespie said she’d held on to her vote-by-mail ballot much longer than usual because Whitman’s ads confused her about Poizner’s positions on abortion and illegal immigration.

Poizner locked in her vote Saturday after a long exchange at her doorstep about taxes, education, illegal immigration and by promising that he would work to drive the number of abortions down to zero.

“You’ve expressed a lot of things that I’ve seen in print, but the other side tells you, ‘Oh, he’s not really telling you his true position’ ” Gillespie told the candidate. “It’s really hard to know what information to trust.” 

“I think a lot of voters feel that way right now, especially because Meg is spending so much money,” Poizner replied, adding that Gillespie should trust his endorsements from conservative leaders like Rep. Tom McClintock who “is not for sale.” 

In an interview after Poizner left, Gillespie said didn’t “watch too much TV, but what I do see is Meg Whitman.” “She’s really making you question him,” she added.

Once she met Poizner, she said, “He really resolved the ‘who do I trust’ issue.”

Unfortunately for Poizner, there wasn’t time to knock on other doors, and he was off to his next event.

--Maeve Reston in Irvine

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