Carly Fiorina, HP's former chairman and CEO, and ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman are making bids for major political offices in California. The struggling Republican Party in the state is backing both candidates, who bring with them star power and money. However, both also face significant challenges, including a lack of political experience, spotty voting records and the troubled legacy Arnold Schwarzenegger-another big-name person with little political experience-will leave behind.
It's awash in billions of dollars of debt, has a high-profile but
ineffective governor and has a Republican Party that continues to lose
relevance in a state it once dominated.
That's California, where the battle to close a $26 billion budget gap got so
bad that the state this summer had to start issuing IOUs in lieu of payments,
and where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is now putting state items on the auction
block and on eBay to raise much needed cash.
Stepping into this morass are Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, two former CEOs
of high-tech computer giants who are making their first forays into politics by
targeting major offices in California-Fiorina for the U.S. Senate and Whitman
Both Fiorina, who was Hewlett-Packard's chairman and CEO
until her ouster in 2006, and Whitman, who as CEO
helped build eBay from a startup to an Internet powerhouse, bring star power
and truckloads of their own money onto the scene, both of which help give them
a leg up on competitors for their party's nominations.
Still, they both face significant challenges, from a lack of political
experience to having to navigate the roiling waters that is the state
Republican Party. They also could be hamstrung by the legacy of Schwarzenegger,
another big-name and well-moneyed Republican with no real political experience
who many voters feel has done little while in office and has mishandled California's
"When it comes to Fiorina and Whitman, in some ways, they're coming to the
party of [voters] experimenting with a private person [for public office] a
little late," Mark Petracca, an associate professor of political science at the
University of California-Irvine, said in an interview. "I don't think that,
given the Schwarzenegger experience the state had, that people are interested
in whether an executive [at a company] can make a good politician."
Whitman, who retired from eBay in 2008 after 10 years at the helm of the
online auction site, in February officially announced
her candidacy to replace Schwarzenegger when his second term expires in
2011. Her top primary rivals include Steve
Poizner, the state's insurance commissioner and a Silicon Valley
millionaire whose last startup, SnapTrack, created GPS
devices placed in cell phones.
Fiorina first speculated about her political ambitions earlier this year,
and in August registered a campaign committee called "Carly for California,"
the first step in a possible 2010 run against three-term Sen. Barbara Boxer,
D-Calif. Her only declared primary rival would be Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.
Even though Fiorina is not yet a declared candidate, Boxer already
reportedly is using her as a rallying point with campaign donors. Recent polls
have shown Whitman leading her GOP opponents and Fiorina close behind Boxer.
Whitman has been pushing an agenda that focuses on what campaign aides have
said are key issues for California
voters, including jobs and the economy. Fiorina has added the federal
government into that mix.
"The people of California
have serious concerns about job creation, economic growth and the role of
government in solving problems that touch each of our lives," Fiorina said
in a recent statement. "I have received a great deal of encouragement to
make a run for the Senate in 2010 from people across the political spectrum
because these are all issues that need focused attention in Washington."