Ex-high tech CEOs Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, running primarily on their records at Hewlett-Packard and eBay, respectively, are a step closer to statewide office after winning GOP nominations in California June 8.
Fiorina, who received endorsements from the likes of former Intel CEO Craig Barrett and ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin but was rejected by many in the HP family, outdistanced her competition, former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. Now she will look to knock three-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer from her seat in a political climate that has not been kind to incumbents.
Likewise, Whitman outpaced Steve Poizner for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination, and will run against state Attorney General Jerry Brown, the former governor who won the Democratic primary.
In her speech after the primary win, Whitman gave a nod to Fiorina and her victory.
“Career politicians in Sacramento and Washington be warned,” Whitman said. “You now face your worst nightmare: two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.”
Both Whitman and Fiorina-neither of whom have strong political backgrounds, and faced criticism for histories of not voting in elections-ran on the strength of their business records, and the millions of dollars each earned from them.
Whitman reportedly spent $71 million of her own money in their campaign, and has pledged to spend $150 million to with the gubernatorial seat. Fiorina reportedly spent $5 million of personal money in her primary campaign.
Fiorina garnered 56 percent of the vote, outdistancing Campbell’s 22 percent and DeVore’s 19 percent. Whitman collected 64 percent of the votes, while Poizner received 27 percent.
Now the two have to take their shots in the general elections, where they will have to veer back toward the center after having courted the far right during the primary campaigns. They’ll also face an electorate that not only is teeming with anti-incumbent sentiment but also has shown anger toward big corporations.
Throughout the campaign, Fiorina-who spent several months in 2008 as an adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has touted her six years running HP. While she looks to make that record an asset, Boxer will try to use it against her.
Fiorina did run HP, but with mixed results, and the success of her largest endeavor-having HP buy rival Compaq Computer-is still being debated. She eventually was forced by the board of directors to resign after the stock steadily fell during her tenure. She collected a $21 million severance package.
Still, she received the backing of ex-Intel CEO Barrett, who called the HP-Compaq merger “an unqualified success” that set HP up for its current string of success. She also was endorsed by Palin.
However, Fiorina got opposition from some in the HP camp. In a letter to several U.S. senators, HP heir Arianna Packard called Fiorina’s tenure at HP “a disaster.”
“I know a little about Carly Fiorina, having watched her almost destroy the company my grandfather founded,” Packard said in the letter.
Around the same time, it was reported that HP’s political action committee had given $10,000 to Boxer’s campaign.
And Boxer also will focus on Fiorina’s career. During Tuesday’s primaries, Boxer said she has proudly dedicated her life to public service. In contrast, she told reporters, Fiorina “chose to become a CEO, lay off 30,000 workers, ship jobs overseas, have two yachts and do all those things. And take a $21 million severance pay.”
Fiorina took her own shots at Boxer.
“This fall, she will have to answer to the people of California for her failure to stand up for our state,” she said in a statement June 8. “Together, we will replace Boxer, take Washington back, make it listen and make it work.”
Both Fiorina and Whitman represent a new look for California’s Republican party.
“There’s no question that having two dynamic, articulate women at the top of the Republican ticket is a tremendous advantage from previous GOP tickets,” Republican consultant Adam Mendelsohn told the San Francisco Chronicle.
However, their background in business may work against them thanks to outrage of what many voters see as corporate misdeeds, according to political scientist Barbara O’Connor, who said there is voter outrage at corporate malfeasance. She told the Chronicle that Democrats will try to tag the two wealthy ex-CEOs as “the Goldman Sachs twins.”