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Half of the Republican statewide ticket pumped up the party faithful Friday night to cap the first day of the state GOP's semi-annual convention at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego.
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Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was the star of the night, but she shared the spotlight with secretary of state candidate Damon Dunn and state controller nominee Tony Strickland.

In her fourth address to a state Republican convention, Whitman delivered a populist and at times pep rally-like address, albeit with a business school tinge.

The former CEO of online auction firm eBay took the stage as classic rock shook the hotel ballroom. "Damon Dunn, you are a star!" she bellowed and then told Strickland, "You're going to be the most awesome controller! The CFO of the state!"

Sitting with Strickland at the front table were also Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who's running for re-election, and Whitman's husband Griffith R. Harsh.

Whitman wasted no time going after Democrats and her rival Jerry Brown while pacing in front of three vertical banners reading "Take back Sac."

Whitman quickly slammed recently passed financial reforms by describing a fundraiser she had held in New York.

"Do you know who's as excited about this election as we are?" Whitman asked. "The people of New York. They have suffered the financial reforms that are going to crimp our ability to raise capital and they want California to turn the corner."

Whitman promptly painted Brown as a liberal tax-and spender.

"Instead of standing up and vowing to fight against taxes for hard-working Californians, (Brown) said, 'Well, if the people of California vote for a tax increase, I guess that'll be OK.' That sounds to me like a governor who's headed for tax increases."

Whitman also tore into Brown for receiving a $20,000-a-year pension while also mayor of Oakland.

"This is the kind of hypocrisy and nonsense that has gone on too long," Whitman said.

Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford responded by pointing out the flak Whitman's received from some conservative Republicans, who've criticized her for allegedly shifting stands on immigration and other issues.

"It's the only thing she and Republicans can agree on, that they don't like Jerry Brown," Clifford said. "She no longer has any position. She's tried to be on all side of all issues, depending on who her audience is, and the voters just aren't buying it."

Whitman, Strickland and Dunn frequently brought up the city of Bell's pay scandal and tried to tie Democrats to the problem.

Strickland faulted incumbent Controller John Chiang for not catching onto the scandal earlier, as Dunn similarly blamed his rival Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

After Strickland's speech, Dunn introduced Whitman in his trademark, mile-a-minute patter as he scolded the dinner crowd, "You haven't done nothing yet!"

The former NFL player was clearly the groomed up-and-comer and was coming fresh off of an appearance with Fox News' Sean Hannity. After the dinner, Whitman aide Hector Barajas took Dunn around the room introducing him to notables.

The most unusual part of the event was the lateness of the speeches. Whitman didn't take the stage until 9 p.m., near the deadlines of most print journalists and leaving TV stations little time to prepare reports for their 10 p.m. newscasts.

Some scribes wondered whether Whitman didn't want too much coverage of her talking to Republicans, especially since she's courting independents and Democrats in the general election. The Whitman camp has said the party controls the schedule.

Photo: Meg Whitman answers questions Friday in a San Diego stop before attending the state Republican Party convention. Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee



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