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Still, the executive-as-candidate model is catching on this election cycle.

In Wisconsin, newcomer Ron Johnson, a successful plastics manufacturing company executive from Oshkosh, has organized an unexpectedly strong campaign, running neck and neck with Democrat Russ Feingold, an 18-year Senate veteran.

“In a year where insider, professional-politician status has hit its nadir with voters, Johnson may be exactly what Wisconsin voters want — an amateur,” said conservative blogger Ed Morrissey, writing on

California has two corporate titans — both female and both Republican — on the ballot in November. Former eBay head Meg Whitman is taking on Democrat Jerry Brown in the race for governor, and former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina is challenging three-term Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat.

In Connecticut, GOP candidate Linda McMahon has pledged to spend up to $50 million of the fortune she amassed running a pro-wrestling circuit to defeat Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in November. Once dismissed as a political joke, Mrs. McMahon has closed a significant gap in the polls, and many expect a close race for the open Senate seat.

“In the 2008 presidential election, race was a big issue,” Ms. Jacobus said of the trend of executives entering politics. “Black, brown and white seemed to matter.

“In 2010, with the nation on the brink of economic disaster, green, the color of money, is what matters to voters.”