- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

TUSTIN, Calif. | Sen. John McCain endorsed former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman on Friday to become California’s next governor, as she promised to take on powerful public employee labor unions to regain control of the state’s haywire budget.

Mrs. Whitman and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee appeared together at a rally in the state’s traditional GOP heartland, Orange County, where Mr. McCain called her an American success story and committed to work for her election.

The contest is not until next year, and Mrs. Whitman’s candidacy remains unofficial.

Still, the event amounted to a carefully orchestrated campaign event, with pounding rock music and an invited audience that cheered and waved signs.

An oversized “Meg 2010, A New California” banner provided a backdrop on stage.

Mrs. Whitman and Mr. McCain took questions from the crowd but not from reporters.

Mr. McCain, who was routed in California by Barack Obama in November, described Mrs. Whitman as a candidate who could draw new and alienated voters to the Republican Party, which has seen its numbers fall sharply in the state.

“This will be a seminal election,” Mr. McCain said.

Mrs. Whitman has “all of the things that will attract” voters, including a commitment to fiscal discipline sorely needed at the state and national levels, he said.

Mrs. Whitman is one of several Republicans maneuvering to get into next year’s race to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a leading rival for the nomination, issued a statement that he has been endorsed by 70 percent of Republican state legislators and eight former California Republican Party chairmen.

At a time when billions of dollars must be cut from state programs, Mrs. Whitman sketched an agenda that included slashing the state payroll and improving troubled schools.

Speaking in a talk-show-type format, Mrs. Whitman said the power of public employee unions had left Sacramento “out of whack” and warned that multibillion-dollar pension obligations could bankrupt the state.

“We are going to have to take this on,” she said. “We are going to have to negotiate hard with these unions.”

An awkward moment came when Mrs. Whitman, who supports abortion rights, was asked by a member of the audience when life begins.

She said she wanted to reduce the need for abortions and make adoption easier.

“I don’t want to take that choice away from women,” she added.

Mr. McCain lost to Mr. Obama by 24 percentage points in November in California, the largest margin of defeat in a presidential election in the state since World War II, according to an independent Field Poll.

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