Silicon Valley billionaire livens up California race

A longshot in the race for California governor has turned the Republican nomination battle into an unexpectedly close fight despite massive spending by the billionaire who was expected to win handily.
Insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, a Silicon Valley inventor turned politician and a multimillionaire in his own right, has closed most of a 50-point gap in the polls against former eBay Inc chief executive Meg Whitman.
The most populous US state has double-digit inflation, a $20 billion state budget deficit and now, a growing debate about illegal immigration spurred by a controversial law in neighbouring Arizona. Mr Poizner has made gains by seizing the immigration issue.
Democrat Jerry Brown has no real challenger for the Democratic nomination, and Ms Whitman was uncontested on television airwaves early in the campaign, building a lead that looked unassailable. That dropped to 9 percentage points in a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll, which also found the number of undecided voters rising.
Mr Poizner said Ms Whitman was suffering from “blowback” from spending “obscene” amounts of money. “You needed enough money to have critical mass then diminishing returns kick in and then negative returns. I mean it’s not a situation where you can buy the race,” he said in a telephone interview. Mr Poizner, who would be the rich guy in almost any race except this one, kicked an extra $5 million into his campaign this month. The $24 million he donated to his campaign compares with $68 million that Ms Whitman has contributed to her effort.
A spokesman for Ms Whitman pointed to another poll showing her regaining supporters and said voters confused by Mr Poizner ads were returning to her. Mr Poizner named three key issues to stress before the June 8 primary: Ms Whitman’s opposition to the Arizona law, her links to tarnished investment bank Goldman Sachs, where she was a director and what it says about her character, and Ms Whitman’s repeated failure to vote, for which she has apologised.

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