Meg Whitman launched two ads on Spanish-language television stations Thursday, part of an effort to woo Latino voters turned off by the Republican gubernatorial nominee's tough talk about illegal immigration during the GOP primary.
One of the ads highlights Whitman's opposition to a controversial Arizona law that compels police to check the immigration status of those stopped on suspicion of a crime. It also says Whitman opposed Proposition 187, the 1994 California ballot measure that would have denied taxpayer-funded services to illegal immigrants. The other focuses on jobs and the economy.
When asked by reporters, Whitman has consistently expressed her opposition to Proposition 187 and to the Arizona law, which became an issue during the closing weeks of the primary.
But she did not broadcast those stances in tens of millions of dollars in ads in her primary battle against Steve Poizner, who made illegal immigration a central issue. Instead, Whitman's ads emphasized that she would be "tough as nails" on illegal immigrants, and condemned amnesty, sanctuary cities and some taxpayer benefits.
"Illegal immigrants are just that, illegal," she said in an ad that featured her campaign chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson.
Wilson is viewed as a pariah by many in the Latino community because he was the most visible supporter of Proposition 187. In a recent Los Angeles Times- USC poll, only 16% of Latinos felt favorably toward him.
Strategists say Whitman, a billionaire who has put $91 million of her personal wealth into her campaign, must secure substantial support among Latinos if she hopes to prevail over Democrat Jerry Brown in November.
"Unless she gets over one-third of the Latino vote, I don't care how much she spends, she's not going to win," said Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican consultant who publishes the California Target Book. "She was pushed further to the right on that issue than she wanted to go, but the one key thing she remained steadfast on, even though she whispered it during the primary, was that she opposed the Arizona law."
Whitman said she does not believe the focus on illegal immigration during the primary harmed her standing among Latino voters, who she said share the same concerns as all Californians.
"As I have been on the campaign trail, you know what Latinos want to talk about? They want to talk about jobs and they want to talk about education," Whitman said the morning after her primary win.
The new Whitman ads, which are scheduled to air during World Cup matches and beyond, hit those issues. But Democrats have vowed to remind voters about Whitman's prior words.
Before the primary was over, the California Nurses Assn. was running a version of the Wilson ad on Spanish-language radio and Democratic allies say more anti-Whitman efforts are planned.
"There's no question," said Dan Newman, a spokesman for Level the Playing Field 2010, a union-backed group. "Over the next several months, one of the dynamics is going to be Meg Whitman vs. Meg Whitman — which version are we to believe?"