LAFAYETTE — Republican gubernatorial candidate and California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner may be down 49 points in the latest poll, but he says he is far from out of the race.

At a meeting of the Commonwealth Club on Thursday, Poizner attributed rival Meg Whitman's massive lead to her multimillion-dollar advertising blitz.

"People don't know me from Adam, which is frustrating because I am the insurance commissioner," joked Poizner, who has raised $20 million versus Whitman's personal contribution of $40 million and promises to spend as much as $150 million. "... Look, we are just starting. We still have three months. It's not like people know who I am yet."

But it was hard not to compare his sparsely attended appearance at the club's lecture series with Whitman's last month, which drew a sellout crowd, a horde of media, protesters on the sidewalk and a union-funded airplane towing an anti-Whitman banner.

Political observers have questioned whether Poizner can close such a large gap. Even Whitman has moved on from Poizner, focusing her campaign in recent days on the general election and presumptive Democratic nominee Attorney General Jerry Brown.

For Poizner's part, the 53-year-old former high-tech entrepreneur from Silicon Valley did not sound like a desperate man who trails in the polls.

He was relaxed, self-deprecating, funny and passionate about his bid for the state's most prominent office.


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Poizner stressed his dual sets of experiences, first as the founder of two startup companies including SnapTrack, which designed the global positioning satellite chip technology now found in tens of millions of cell phones.

Second, he outlined how he conducted a top-to-bottom review of the state's insurance division, which employs more than 1,000 people, and downsized his budget by 15 percent.

"As governor, I will do the same with all state government," he said.

Poizner also stressed his economic recovery plan, which consists of a 10 percent cut in sales and personal income taxes, a 50 percent reduction in capital gains taxes, and a 10 percent slice out of state spending. Cutting taxes, he said, will spur job growth, expand the tax base and put the state back on solid financial footing.

Poizner was at his best when he fielded audience questions from moderator and Oakland Tribune political and legal affairs writer Josh Richman:

  • On Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: "People don't often confuse me with Arnold ... but I have a black belt in karate. I could take him."

  • On a part-time Legislature: "I would make it a no-time legislature if I could."

  • On illegal aliens: He supports the eventual elimination of all taxpayer subsidies for illegal immigrants, including medical care and education, arguing that individuals would stop coming if these services were unavailable. "We are a very caring people ... but we are out of cash and our health and education systems are overwhelmed. We have no choice."

  • On partisanship: "I am not some partisan warrior. ... What I am really after is to be everyone's governor."

  • On the tea party movement: "I like it."

  • On maneuvering around a Democratic-controlled Legislature: "If the Legislature blocks all my reforms, we will have no choice but to go to the people through the initiative process."

  • On offshore oil drilling: He supports drilling from existing platforms off the California coastline with the use of new, more environmentally sensitive technology.

  • On a proposed oil tax to pay for higher education: He opposes it. "Oil companies are not skating away and not paying their fair share. They are."

  • On the state water shortage: He called it a man-made crisis and said he would fight all the way to the Supreme Court in a bid to seize state control over water decisions, including a federal judge's order to shut off Delta pumps to protect fish.

  • On the public employee union: Poizner said unions have become too powerful. He supports an initiative that would require unions to obtain permission from every member to use dues money to pay for political activities.

    Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers politics. Contact her at 925-945-4773 or www.ibabuzz.com/politics.