|The Republican primary in the race for insurance commissioner may be one of the most competitive of next year, while the Democratic primary looks like more of a coronation for current Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.|
More California voters know who Cruz Bustamante is than do not. In fact, according to the most recent Field Poll, 73 percent of likely voters had an opinion of the current lieutenant governor. That's probably not because his current job is high-profile, but rather because his controversial 2003 candidacy for governor in the recall raised his visibility statewide.
That is the good news for his campaign.
The bad news is that more voters have an unfavorable opinion of him than not. (38 to 35 percent). But with no primary opponent, Bustamante has many months to try to build up his positives. Though he has only a little more than $100,000 raised, Bustamante has already run statewide several times and has a track record of well-funded candidacies, particularly with the support of the state’s Indian gaming tribes.
The battle for the GOP nomination is a three-way struggle in which there have been whispers about each of the candidates potentially withdrawing. If all three remain, the battle will break down as a race between an ideological moderate, Steve Poizner, and two more conservative candidates, Gary Mendoza and Dr. Phil Kurzner.
At a gathering of Republicans earlier this year, Mendoza declared that if Poizner were to win the GOP nomination that he, Mendoza, would not support Poizner against the Democratic nominee. The audience, the media reported at the time, roared as Mendoza denounced Poizner as the "Gore-Lieberman wing" of the GOP.
At issue, were several donations Poizner made to Democratic causes, including the recount committee former by Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000.
Last year, Poizner ran for the Assembly in a heavily Democratic Bay Area district, spending more than $6 million of his own money (he made his millions through developing cell phone tracking technology used by first responders). Though he lost, he became a poster-boy of sorts for gerrymandered districts, and helped head up Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Yes on 77 efforts (and dropped another $1.25 million into that campaign).
Poizner can clearly self-fund. But his past support of Democratic causes could potentially make his candidacy tough in what is typically a conservative GOP primary. Both Kurzner and Mendoza hope to capitalize on this by brandishing their own conservative credentials, with both campaigns committed, more than anything it seems, to torpedoing a Poizner nomination.
Kurzner, as of June 30, had already raised more than $100,000 dollars and had launched a “Dr. Phil” website, playing off the name of the popular TV show host. Conservative activists seem to support Kurzner, though of the three, he is a political novice.
Mendoza ran for Insurance Commissioner against the current officeholder John Garamendi in 2002, garnering just shy of 42 percent of the vote to Garamendi’s 46.6 percent. For that race Mendoza raised $2.4 million, including a $1 million contribution from the California Republican Party.
None of the candidates are well-known according to the latest Field Poll. Here’s the results: (first number is name recognition then favorable then unfavorable)
Gary Mendoza: 19-10-8
Phil Kurzner: 15-7-8
Steve Poizner: 15-5-10
Ultimately, the primary will likely turn on whether or not Mendoza, Kurzner, or both have enough resources to vilify Poizner’s moderate record to conservative GOP primary voters.
Candidate: Dr. Phil Kurzner
Current Job: Chief of Service, Department of Urology, West Los Angeles Kaiser Foundation Hospital
Cash on Hand: $118,437.64, as of June 30.
Consultant: Ron Rogers
Candidate: Steve Poizner
Current Job: Yes on 77 campaign chair, 2004 Assembly candidate
Cash on Hand: $ 657,053.03 , as of June 30.
Consultant: Wayne Johnson
Candidate: Gary Mendoza
Current Job: 2002 GOP nominee for Insurance Commissioner
Cash on Hand: $25,725.41 , as of June 30.
Consultant: Kevin Spillane
Candidate: Cruz Bustamante
Current Job: Lieutenant Governor
Cash on Hand: $106,385.56, as of June 30.
Consultant: Richie Ross