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Tequila! Whitman, Fiorina down shots in appeal to Latinos

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina received a warm welcome here from the audience at the Hispanic 100 lifetime Achievement Award Gala. Before speaking, the two Republican candidates running for governor and Senate, respectively, downed shots of tequila as the crowd cheered them on.

Fiorina spoke first, saying, "Mucho gracias. This evening has spoiled me forever, from now on, I want to follow Paul Rodriguez [the emcee], and i think every speech should begin with a shot of Tequila." Then she let out a yell, "It was great!"

Fiorina says California and the United States have been deeply enriched by Latinos, and pointed out that 25% of all Latino small businesses in the U.S. are here in California.

VIDEO: NBC's Domenico Montanaro looks at the latest in the California governor and Senate races as well as the race for President Obama’s former Senate seat in Illinois.

And she said a guest worker program that works is desperately needed. She even went so far as to blame her opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer for killing the guest-worker effort in 2006.

"These are consequential times in California," Fiorina said, "these are times where we must choose to reinforce and reaffirm those things that made us great. Too often, bad government and policy is destroying opportunity in the state of California."

She spoke about problems like water shortages affecting farmers in Central California, which she blamed on federal protection of the endangered Smelt fish. Many farms have shut in the Central Coast and, in one city, Mendota, unemployment is about 40%.

Again she placed the blame squarely on Boxer. Boxer is the Chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Fiorina said it is Boxer's job to get that water turned on, but Boxer refused to do it.

"We must protect our frogs and our fish," she said, "we must protect our families as well."

Fiorina added that her first act as a senator would be to walk into senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office and get the water turned on.

She closed by saying it's time for a change: "We have to change the people we send to Washington. These are important and consequential times; this is a time for us to stand up and say and reaffirm what it is we believe in, who it is we are, and who we stand with...."

Whitman followed. She did not mention her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown by name, but did make one reference to "my opponent" and his lack of Latino-focused ads -- though the SEIU is certainly running ads in support of Brown, and in Spanish, hitting Whitman for the controversy surrounding her hiring of an undocumented worker, who worked in her home for nine years.

There was no mention of the former housekeeper or the Brown voice mail in which a Brown staffer can be heard referring to Whitman as a "whore."

"Now I don't have to tell you that we have an exciting election coming in 25 days," said an animated Whitman, "and we are in the home stretch, and you know what, we are going to win this thing."

Whitman framed the election as a battle for the soul of California: "Do we want to move forward? Do we want a beacon on the future, or do we want the same old policies of the past? I vote for the future. I bet you vote for the future."

Making her pitch to the Latino crowd, Whitman said, "Here is what every Californian tells me, every Latino Californian tells me, they want California to be great again." She added, "I want to work with Latinos; I can't win the election without the Latino vote."

She promised that Latinos will have a seat at the table in her administration.

She pointed out that the unemployment rate for Latinos is 17%, far exceeding the national average of 9.6%. "One-in-four Latinos are unemployed in California, and that just breaks my heart as it breaks yours."

She also promised to take on the failing California school system: "We are going to take on the leadership of the California Teachers Association, and we are going to get this done... . We are going to put more control into the hands of parents and local school districts. We are going to get the Sacramento bureaucracy out of the way."