Fiorina, Whitman Face Hurdles in Calif. Campaign Bids

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2009-09-06 Print this article Print

title=Money, Name Recognition Are Significant Assets} 

Money and name recognition are significant assets both Fiorina and Whitman bring to the scene. In a state as large as California, money is very important because much of the campaigning is done "in a wholesale way," through such avenues as statewide media blitzes, Petracca said. A door-to-door campaign isn't feasible.

Both can push a lot of their own personal money into their campaigns, much more so than their rivals. Still, money can't buy a win, Petracca said. He pointed to Al Checchi, who spent $40 million of his own money in the 1998 gubernatorial campaign, only to finish second in the Democratic primary to the highly unpopular incumbent, Gray Davis.

Fiorina and Whitman also come with something Schwarzenegger didn't when he replaced Davis in 2003: experience running the operations of major corporations. However, given the negative view of Schwarzenegger's tenure-particularly during the budget crisis-the lack of political experience could be a drag on them.

"The stature of the governor's position itself was degraded to a degree over the last few months," Charles King, an IT analyst with Pund-IT Research, based in Hayward, Calif. "Schwarzenegger was not able to offer meaningful pressure on the parties to compromise. He talked tough, but he couldn't do anything."

Voters may be tired of celebrity candidates with big names and deep pockets coming into office through the side door, without any real political experience, Petracca said. Both have been somewhat active politically-Whitman was a vocal supporter of President George W. Bush, and Fiorina was a high-profile proxy for Sen. John McCain's bid for the White House, though she was dismissed after conflicts there.

Fiorina in particular may also take a hit for a lack of political experience of another kind. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Fiorina has only voted in five of 18 national and state elections since registering to vote in California in 2000, and had equally poor voting habits in Maryland. For her part, Whitman didn't vote in the 2003 recall election.

Petracca said voters could take a dim view of Fiorina's voting record.

"They may ask, ?ö?ç??Why should we let you get sent into office in late middle age when you haven't shown an interest in politics until now?" he said.

Without the political experience, voters and the media will look at their track records as tech executives. Whitman had a good run at eBay and left on her own accord, though there were issues with eBay's performance in the last years of her tenure. Fiorina was at HP for six years before being ousted for HP's lack of growth, despite the company's purchase of Compaq. It was also during her tenure that HP cut 20,000 jobs, after which she took a buyout that included more than $20 million in severance.

"As we get closer to the election, a lot [of scrutiny of their job performances] will come up," King said. "I don't think Whitman did everything right at eBay, but at least she wasn't shown the door."

That media scrutiny might not be easy to take, and both will have to be proactive in getting their messages out there to the voters, Petracca said. That's something they haven't done yet, he said.

Fiorina's and Whitman's connections to the high-tech industry-a big part of California's economy-may also carry little weight with the electorate. The bulk of the GOP money comes from Southern California, Petracca said. In addition, the tech connection may play well in the urban areas of the state, said King, but get a few miles outside of Los Angeles or San Francisco, "and you feel like you stepped into the middle of Oklahoma, from a socio-political standpoint."

Still, despite any drawbacks the candidates might have, major GOP figures both in California and in other states have thrown their support behind Fiorina and Whitman. For example, both McCain and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have spoken for Fiorina.

However, both still have to figure out a way of steering through the California Republican landscape, Petracca said. The GOP has been losing steam as the demographics in the state have changed, and now much of the party is controlled by strong conservatives, he said. The problem for any Republican candidate is that to win the GOP primary, they need to play to those conservatives on both fiscal and social issues. But those conservatives' views-particularly on social issues-won't help them win a general election.

Both have some liberal-leaning opinions-Whitman is pro-choice, while Fiorina supports civil unions, though not gay marriages. But whether such views are enough to carry the general elections is unknown.

King said Fiorina needs to be careful, given Boxer's experience and the people who back her.

"Barbara and [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein [D-Calif.] are heavyweights," he said. "They've been there a long time. Fiorina and others seem to think they can run in the middle and paint Boxer as a freakazoid lefty. Others have tried that, and they've got the tread marks on their backs to show for it."


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