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Whitman’s fate as a candidate was sealed when, after spending millions of dollars on the most intensive Republican Hispanic outreach program in California history, her former housekeeper emerged in the final weeks of the race to say Whitman fired her after nine years when she revealed she was an illegal immigrant.

It later came to light that the maid had help from union groups who supported Brown for governor.

As an adviser to 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, Whitman said she would support legalization for immigrants who pay a fine and learn English, but she was forced to take a much harder line during her Republican gubernatorial primary.

Before joining her former boss turned political mentor, Romney, during the 2008 Republican presidential primary, Whitman had shown little interest in politics and had rarely even voted. The educational foundation named for Whitman and her husband, Stanford neurosurgeon Dr. Griffith Harsh IV, was mostly inactive. She had had little community involvement.

Despite spending $144 million of her own fortune in her bid for governor, Forbes still pegs Whitman’s wealth at $1.3 billion.

Even while ascending to the top post at HP, Whitman’s aspirations for a cabinet or White House post should Romney be elected have not dimmed. She has worked as a fundraiser for him this year and “would have to consider an offer from President Romney,” said Randle, her political consultant.

But he added that would not have to be at the beginning of his term.

After months of public criticism during the race, Whitman has sought to rehabilitate her image in the last few months.

After signing on with the HP board, she became a strategic partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and joined the boards of Procter & Gamble, one of her former employers, and ZipCar, the rental firm that went public in April.

The Long Island native also has begun moving into a more public role as a philanthropist.

She appeared last week with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a prominent Democrat, to donate $500,000 for math education in the nation’s second largest public school system.

This week, the Whitman-Harsh Family Foundation added a $2.5 million gift to Summit Public Schools for 10 new charter schools. Whitman, who is on the board of Summit, said the foundation would give up to $2.5 million more in matching funds from Silicon Valley donations.


Associated Press writer Jordan Robertson in San Francisco contributed to this story.