When Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina clinched their party's nominations for governor and U.S. Senate in June, Whitman proclaimed on stage that their joint effort would be the Democrats' worst nightmare. But they have gone separate ways on the campaign trail, never publicly crossing paths again until Friday night at a gala of a prominent group of Latino business leaders in Newport Beach.
The brief back-to-back speeches by the two former Silicon Valley chief executives at the black-tie gathering of the Hispanic 100, a group formed by Orange County business leaders in 2002 that has endorsed both of them, came in the midst of intensive efforts by both campaigns to appeal to Latino voters, and a tumultuous stretch in the governor's race.
After spending millions of dollars on advertising to court Latino voters, Whitman's campaign was thrown off kilter by revelations that she had employed an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper for nine years. A new firestorm erupted Thursday night for her Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, after The Times obtained a voice mail message that captured a private conversation between Brown and his associates in which one of them could be heard calling Whitman "a whore" during a discussion about whether she had cut a deal to gain an endorsement.
Whitman did not address either controversy in her speech at the Balboa Bay Club & Resort on Friday night, focusing on her pledge to create jobs and address dysfunction in Sacramento. She reminded the audience that she has run an expansive campaign to attract Latino voters.
"I want to work with Latinos," she said. "I cannot win this election without the Latino vote. From the very beginning I have worked to include Latinos in my campaign."
She said that would continue if she is elected governor in less than four weeks.
"I'm going to reach out to the Latino community, and you're going to have a place at my table in the office in Sacramento. I want you to be part of this administration."
The candidates sat at separate tables during a two-hour reception in the club's ballroom, but they exchanged a hug and a few words briefly during the mariachi performance when Fiorina visited Whitman's table. At the direction of the band leader a short while later, they toasted and drank shots of tequila with Mimi Walters, the GOP nominee for state treasurer.
Fiorina began her speech with a high-pitched trill and said the evening's festivities had "spoiled" her forever.
"I think every speech should begin with a shot of tequila," she said.
She touched briefly on the thorny topic of illegal immigration — which has been a point of contention in her race with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer because of the Republican's support for Arizona's tough new immigration law. She said she would press for a guest-worker program to allow "as many people as possible to live the American dream" and criticized Boxer for seeking to kill a proposed temporary worker program. Boxer stated at the time that businesses were looking for a pool of cheap labor that would threaten the American worker.
"Really, I thought immigrants were the heart of this great country," Fiorina said with a dramatic pause. "Our great nation must always be the place where people come to build a better life for themselves and their families."
Fiorina also highlighted what she views as Boxer's failure to address high unemployment and water shortages in the Central Valley and the importance of Latino culture in California, noting that a quarter of small businesses in the state are owned by Latinos.