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Calif. Candidates Chant Fiscal Restraint Mantra

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Calif. Candidates Chant Fiscal Restraint Mantra

Calif. Candidates Chant Fiscal Restraint Mantra

Calif. Candidates Chant Fiscal Restraint Mantra

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman takes on Steve Poizner in the June 8 Republican primary. Both candidates are promising fiscal restraint, but that's a far cry from the way the campaign is being run.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.


And Im Robert Siegel.

In a little more than two months, voters in California will begin to winnow down their choices in the race for governor. The Republican primary ballot will not include the incumbent, Arnold Schwarzenegger - he's barred by term limits from serving again. The two Republicans vying to replace him are both promising fiscal restraint if they're elected.

But John Myers of member station KQED reports that in the campaign so far there's been anything but fiscal restraint.

JOHN MYERS: It's well-known that California is perpetually on the verge of running out of money. Lawmakers at the state capitol return next week to continuing haggling over ways to erase yet another staggering budget deficit. And not surprisingly, solving the state's money problems is shaping up to be a central theme in the race for governor.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Ms. MEG WHITMAN (Republican, Gubernatorial Candidate): Government will never be a business. It shouldnt be a business. But it does need a dose of how do we do more for less...

MYERS: That's one of the latest TV ads from Republican candidate Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay. Of course, Whitman's promise to help California do more for less applies to how she'd run the state, not how she's running her campaign. With the primary election not until June, she's already opened her checkbook to the tune of $39 million. "Forbes" magazine estimated Meg Whitman's personal fortune last year at $1.3 billion.

Her opponent, Republican Steve Poizner, has claimed she's trying to buy the election.

Mr. STEVE POIZNER (Republican, Gubernatorial Candidate): Here's a person who has unlimited money - thats more money to be spent in a Republican primary in the history of Republican primaries.

MYERS: But Poizner is no pauper. His current job as state insurance commissioner comes after a career where he made millions of dollars as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. And since 2004, he's spent generously on his own campaigns and on statewide ballot measures. In fact, Poizner recently came in at number two on a list of top individual donors in California politics this decade.

Of course, his opponent Meg Whitman, who had never been a player in politics until this campaign, is already at number four. Campaign finance records show she has spent $27 million since the beginning of the year, so much that her campaign coffers are now almost empty.

Speaking to reporters after a dinner event speech last month, she defended the way her campaign has been run.

Ms. WHITMAN: What I can do, which is what I've tried to do is to get my message out. And in the end, voters are really smart. They figure out who they want to lead this state. They figure out your strength and your weaknesses, and the challenges that we face right now.

MYERS: Whitmans saturation TV and radio ads have helped her amass a 50-point lead in the Republican primary. And thats led a group of Democrats and labor unions to already attack her on the same issue in a campaign ad for wealth.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Unidentified Woman: They called it wasteful spending, but I kept my personal jet costs down to a frugal $3 million...

MYERS: The presumptive Democratic nominee is former governor, former presidential candidate and current State Attorney General Jerry Brown.

In an interview last month, he linked Whitman's money to events beyond California.

Mr. JERRY BROWN (Democrat, Gubernatorial Candidate): I think if a candidate says, I've been a CEO therefore I can run California, that certainly opens up the whole discussion of the role of corporate America and whether or not there was enough supervision on Wall Street.

MYERS: That sounds like Californians will be getting a healthy dose of talk about money this year, and maybe at some point how to deal with the fact that state government has no money.

For NPR News, Im John Myers in Sacramento.

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