- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif. | An e-mail in which an adviser to candidate Meg Whitman threatened to spend $40 million or more to ruin her fellow Republican Steve Poizner’s reputation provided a rare glimpse this week at the tough tactics in the high-stakes race for California governor.

Claiming he was being threatened in the contest to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Poizner on Monday released a Jan. 27 e-mail from a Whitman strategist that said the former eBay chief executive was willing to spend the money “tearing up Steve if we must.”

The e-mail begins: “Is there anything we can do to get SP to reconsider the race?” It goes on to suggest that Mr. Poizner should instead run for the Senate seat now held by Democrat Dianne Feinstein in 2012.

“Could be a strong GOP year and DiFi” - Mrs. Feinstein - “will be 78 or 79 years old,” said the e-mail from Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser in Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.

“Thought I’d try one more time before it’s 1914,” the message added.

Mr. Poizner said 1914 was a “not subtle” reference to the start of World War I. He said the offer to bow out of the governor’s race in order to get party support for a later Senate campaign amounted to offering him a consolation prize.

Mr. Poizner asked the FBI, the California Attorney General’s Office and U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate whether the exchanges were illegal. He said the intimidation crosses the line from the normal rough-and-tumble of politics to intimidation.

“She wants to be ordained. She wants to be the only one running so she doesn’t have to answer your questions,” Mr. Poizner told reporters.

Mr. Murphy later confirmed that he sent the e-mail and mocked Mr. Poizner’s tone in a posting on Twitter, where he wrote, “Steve Poizner becoming unhinged, gave nutty press conf today. Wants FBI to lock me up.”

Mrs. Whitman, a billionaire, is the front-runner in the Republican primary against Mr. Poizner, a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is now the state’s insurance commissioner. A Public Policy Institute of California poll last week found 41 percent of Republican voters backing Mrs. Whitman and just 11 percent supporting Mr. Poizner, with 44 percent of likely primary voters still undecided.

Mr. Murphy said he sent the e-mail to Poizner pollster Jan van Lohuizen after hearing the pollster may have “grave doubts about the viability of the faltering Poizner campaign.”

“It is true that I have been trying to find a way to avoid a costly and unnecessary Republican primary,” Mr. Murphy said in a statement released by Mrs. Whitman’s campaign.

Jerry Brown, the state attorney general and a former two-term governor, is the presumed Democratic nominee for governor, although he has not yet officially announced he is running.

Mrs. Whitman was holding events Monday to promote her new book and did not respond to Mr. Poizner’s claims.

Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for Mr. Brown, said the Attorney General’s Office was reviewing Mr. Poizner’s complaint.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento declined to comment on the letter, which it received Monday. Such charges typically would be forwarded to the FBI, said spokeswoman Lauren Horwood. FBI spokesman Steve Dupre also declined comment.

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