The two leading candidates in California's GOP primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday defended their past support for certain tax measures that proved unpopular with voters.
They were making what is likely their final appearance together before the June 8 primary, participating in a debate on a Southern California talk radio show.
Former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina defended her support for a failed California ballot initiative in 2000 that sought to reduce the voter threshold necessary to pass local school bonds. Meanwhile, Fiorina questioned former congressman Tom Campbell about his support last year for temporary tax hikes that were designed to help California close its massive budget deficit.
Fiorina's question came from the third candidate in the race, state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, who has tried to portray her as someone with less conservative leanings before she decided to run for office.
DeVore noted that Fiorina wrote an op-ed column in the San Jose Mercury News with venture capitalist John Doerr that supported Proposition 26. The initiative, which was narrowly defeated, would have allowed a simple majority to approve special taxes for education.
"Voters may remember that Proposition 26 had broad bipartisan support, including virtually all of the business community," Fiorina said during the debate on the John and Ken Show, KFI-AM in Southern California.
When DeVore interrupted, Fiorina responded by belittling his standing in the polls.
"I'm sure it's very frustrating for Chuck DeVore to have so many conservatives endorse me," said Fiorina, who was supported recently by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
DeVore said Fiorina's position on Proposition 26 was important because it gives voters an indication of whether candidates will follow through on what they say they will do during the course of a campaign.
Moments later, Fiorina got a chance to post a similar question to Campbell.
She asked about his past support for temporary tax hikes imposed last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature, as well as his separate proposal to raise the state gasoline tax by 32 cents a gallon. Campbell, a former finance director under Schwarzenegger, said the moves were necessary to help California dig its way out of a budget deficit.
He responded that past California governors, including Ronald Reagan, had supported tax increases as a way of dealing with a sudden drop in revenue. He also said his proposal for eliminating the state's budget deficit included $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in increased taxes.
Campbell said he would not support tax increases at the federal level and noted that he had a strong record as a congressman when it came to cutting government spending.
He asked Fiorina whether she voted for him when he ran against Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2000. She did not, she said, which Campbell then used to question her loyalties to the GOP.
Fiorina got in the best zinger of the night when she complained about her opponents trying to distort her record.
"I would say it's taxing my patience, but I don't want to give Tom Campbell another idea for a tax increase," she said.