By Carla Marinucci, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
In a last weekend of frenzied campaigning before the June 8 primary, candidates for statewide office marshaled last-minute ads, attacks – even visits from Karl Rove and a fictional “Queen Meg” – to appeal to voters in what’s been a record-breaking season of political spending.
GOP billionaire and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who has spent a stunning $81 million on her gubernatorial primary effort, dropped a few more dollars Sunday by offering free barbecue and live music to supporters who showed up at rallies in Madera and Sacramento.
Whitman, boosted in recent polls suggesting she’s got a 2-to-1 lead over State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, was accompanied by former Gov. Pete Wilson at the rallies.
But Whitman was dogged at both locations by colorful protesters from the California Nurses Association hoping to remind voters of her pricey run.
The nurses staged a parade starring a fictional “Queen Meg,” complete with crown, royal chariot, and retinue including “Lord Romney” (a dig at Whitman supporter Mitt Romney). They also put up ads on Spanish-language media regarding Whitman’s connections with Wilson, an unpopular figure among Latino voters for his support of the controversial anti-illegal immigration measure Proposition 187.
Poizner hit a town hall meeting in Riverside on Saturday and a Christian church in Norwalk on Sunday to talk up immigration enforcement and continue to keep the heat on Whitman.
On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jerry Brown appeared eager to draw a contrast to Whitman in an opinion piece in the San Diego Union Tribune. He argued he would be a governor who relies on frugality, and is best positioned to get the state’s problems under control because he knows the legislature’s “history and its governing structure.”
In the race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Barbara Boxer, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina – who appears to have the momentum in a contentious Republican primary – hit a phone bank in San Luis Obispo to encourage supporters.
“We must fire Barbara Boxer in November, and I am the only candidate in this race positioned to do so,” said Fiorina.
Rove helps DeVore
But another GOP challenger, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine, got help from former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove at a Jewish Republican dinner in Los Angeles on Sunday.
The third GOP candidate seeking the nomination, former South Bay Rep. Tom Campbell, held one of his signature tele-town hall meetings Sunday, arguing he’s earned every major newspaper endorsement in the contest and is the only Republican shown in polls to beat Boxer in a head-to-head race.
In the Democratic race for attorney general, the campaign of candidate Chris Kelly, the former Facebook privacy officer, filed a complaint Sunday against the PowerPAC.org Voter Fund. Kelly’s campaign alleged the group violated the election law of making an independent expenditure by purchasing $140,000 in radio ads on behalf of San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.
Harris campaign spokesman Brian Brokaw charged last week that Kelly, who has donated $12 million toward his own campaign, is a “panicking candidate” who has resorted to increasingly desperate attacks.
Drives against initiatives
Two initiatives backed by expensive corporate efforts were also the focus of last-minute vote drives.
A leading consumer advocate charged Prop. 17’s chief sponsor, Mercury Insurance, of fraudulently suggesting in recent mailers that the Consumer Coalition of California backs the measure.
That coalition is “run by a Texas woman, Virginia Jarrow, who has repeatedly sided with industry,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog, who also said Mercury failed to identify itself as an insurance firm in mailers as mandated by law.
Kathy Fairbanks, who heads the pro-Prop. 17 group, said the Consumer Watchdog allegations are “completely unfounded” and evidence of the group’s desperation in the final days of the campaign.
Mercury says the measure will allow consumers to get “continuous coverage” auto insurance discounts when they change companies, but Consumer Watchdog argues it will allow surcharges for tens of thousands of Californians, such as students and military personnel, who haven’t maintained continuous insurance.
Also Sunday, opponents of Prop. 16, a ballot measure funded by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., scored their biggest endorsement to date – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The most powerful woman in American politics urged Californians to reject the measure, which would require cities and counties to win the approval of two-thirds of their voters before spending public funds to enter the electricity business.
“Proposition 16 would make it more difficult for communities to choose more renewable energy through public power,” she said in a statement.
E-mail Carla Marinucci at email@example.com. Chronicle staff writer David R. Baker contributed to this report.