Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman lashed out at rival Jerry Brown on Thursday, accusing the Democrat and his labor allies of spreading lies among Latinos about her position on immigration as her poll numbers have plummeted among that key sector of the electorate.
"It makes me mad that he's just out there telling lies," Whitman said after touring a small Latino-owned Los Angeles business that imports and manufactures decorative metal pieces for homes. "He accuses me of not being truthful. He is the one just not telling the truth on this, and it makes me mad and I'm not going to let it stand."
She accused Brown and unions of running inaccurate ads and distributing mailers that say that she supported Arizona's recent crackdown on illegal immigrants and Proposition 187, the 1994 California ballot measure intended to deny undocumented residents taxpayer-funded services. Whitman has consistently said she was against both measures, a stance that cost her support in the GOP primary campaign.
But the arguments advanced in ads and mailers are grounded in shards of truth: While she said she opposed a law such as Arizona's for California, she said states have the right to make such decisions.
And although she has consistently said she opposed Proposition 187, she has said undocumented students should be barred from attending publicly funded universities, one of the initiative's planks.
The Brown campaign responded that Whitman has consistently lied during this race.
"Meg Whitman has run the most relentlessly negative and dishonest campaign in California history, and nearly every ad she has put out has been derided as entirely or mostly false by just about every reputable news organization in the state of California and many national ones," said Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford. "So I think Californians know who's not telling the truth."
Whitman's comments, among the sharpest and most emotional she has made on the campaign trail, come on the heels of a new poll indicating that after months of a dead-heat race, Brown has gained an edge with less than two weeks to election day.
The Democrat, who was endorsed by La Opinion on Thursday, saw especially large gains among Latino voters in a Public Policy Institute of California poll released this week, which showed him leading the race by eight points overall and by 29 points among Latinos.
One month earlier, a poll by the same organization had the candidates in a dead heat overall and Brown leading Whitman by seven points among Latinos.
Latinos have traditionally leaned Democratic, but Whitman has run extensive advertising on Spanish-language television and radio, plastered Spanish-language billboards and bus shelter posters in cities where large numbers of Latinos live and opened field offices in areas such as East Los Angeles and Santa Ana. On Wednesday, the candidate did four interviews with Spanish-language broadcast media and held two Latino-focused events in the Central Valley.
Brown, who lacks Whitman's unlimited resources, has not done as much outreach, instead relying on his long-standing ties with Latinos. While he was governor, he worked with labor organizer Cesar Chavez and appointed Latinos to high-ranking spots in state government.
Whitman sounded frustrated that her work had not paid dividends.
"Jerry Brown has taken this vote for granted. He's living on what he did for this community 40 years ago," Whitman said. "I'm the first Republican in 30 years to open an office in East L.A. I have reached out to this community, I've been part of this community.... Our entire Internet site is translated into Spanish. His website — he uses Google to translate it into Spanish. I mean, think about that — it's not respect for the community."
But Whitman also seemed to acknowledge that her juggernaut campaign, on which she has already spent more than $160 million and will certainly spend millions more before Nov. 2, has failed to overtake Brown's modest operation.
"People need to see me," she said. "They've seen me on TV, they've seen me on the Internet. They haven't seen me in real life."
Whitman's event Thursday was bumpy from the start.
Members of a nurses union that has been a thorn in the candidate's side for months protested at the site. A co-owner of the company shoved an actress dressed as "Queen Meg" as news cameras rolled. The police were called.
When Whitman spoke to employees, a worker asked her in Spanish if she favored driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. She did not answer, instead returning to her talking points about jobs as the protesters' chants — "Californians be aware, Meg Whitman does not care" — echoed in the background at the open-air event.
Reminded that she had not answered the question, Whitman then said she opposed such licenses.