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State Democrats, however, say the business executives and entrepreneurs offer little to solve the vast problems in California.

“I don’t think they bring any more than a bank book, a checking account,” said John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party. “They’re trying to play it as a big deal. … I don’t think anyone’s going to vote for somebody’s checkbook.”

But the Club for Growth, a conservative group that endorses Republican candidates who support limited government and lower taxes, sees value in business experience.

“Business folks from all industries are attractive in an environment when Washington’s principal flaw seems to be the inability to balance its budget,” said group spokesman Michael Connelly. “People who’ve made a career of meeting a payroll and balancing a budget and creating jobs will obviously have an appeal in these times.”

Enter Mrs. Fiorina, who brings an impressive resume as the first woman to take the lead at a Fortune 20 company. While her tenure at the helm of Hewlett-Packard was fraught with controversy (she was unceremoniously dumped in 2005 after the company’s stock plummeted by 50 percent), she made the jump from business to politics, playing a prime role as a top adviser to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, during his 2008 presidential bid.

“Fiorina learned some valuable training working for McCain and should be able to couple that with her corporate experience and make this a race in California,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed. “Fundraising and message discipline drive both politics and corporate growth, and her experience should be an asset.”

To date, though, Silicon Valley tech whizzes have had little success in politics.

Engineer and former Rep. Ed Zschau, a Republican, lost his bid for Senate in 1986. Although former eBay executive Steve Westly, a Democrat, served as state controller for four years, he lost his 2006 bid for governor.

But California’s financial woes may have changed the electoral calculus.

“Voters are still intrigued by the idea of a political outsider, but they’re looking for one whose experience may be more directly applicable for governing California and dealing with its economic challenges,” Mr. Schnur said.