Tuesday, February 10, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. | Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman officially launched her bid to seek the Republican nomination for California governor on Monday, capping a yearlong tour on the political stage after leaving her high-profile Silicon Valley job.

The 52-year-old political neophyte began testing her affinity for politics after leaving the online auction site after 10 years last January. She served as finance chairwoman for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and then as a national co-chair of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s.

“California faces challenges unlike any other time in its history - a weak and faltering economy, massive job losses, and an exploding state budget deficit,” Mrs. Whitman said in a statement on her Web site. “California is better than this, and I refuse to stand by and watch it fail.”

She said former California Gov. Pete Wilson will be her campaign chairman.

Mrs. Whitman will face Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, another wealthy former Silicon Valley executive, and former Rep. Tom Campbell, in the Republican primary.

Whichever candidate emerges from the Republican field will face a stiff challenge in the 2010 general election as the party continues to lose voters. Republicans accounted for 31.4 percent of registered voters last November, a slide of more than three percentage points since the 2004 elections. The party, which has grown more conservative in recent years as California voters have become more centrist, has been shedding voters for more than a decade as the ranks of independents in California has grown.

President Obama defeated Republican challenger Mr. McCain by 24 percentage points last year, the widest margin in a California presidential race since World War II.

Nevertheless, Mr. Poizner’s communications director, Kevin Spillane, said Mrs. Whitman’s decision is a sign of strength for the state Republican Party.

“Campaigns are about differences and we look forward to Meg Whitman and other Republican candidates joining Steve Poizner in a vigorous discussion about who has the hands-on experience, innovative ideas and conservative instincts to save California,” Mr. Spillane said.

Mrs. Whitman promoted her financial experience during the presidential campaign but has not revealed her positions on social issues such as abortion, stem-cell research and the death penalty. She supported the gay marriage ban approved by California voters in November.

The Republican nominee will face a crowded Democratic field that is expected to include former governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has not said whether she will run or remain in Congress.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is prohibited from running again under the state’s term-limits law and will leave office in January 2011. His moderate social and fiscal positions have often put him at odds with the state Republican Party and the Bush administration.

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