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The Power of Meg's Money

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Former Congressman Tom Campbell swears that former eBay CEO and gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman did not squeeze him out of the GOP primary for governor and prompt him to switch to the race to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Whitman spokesperson Sarah Pompei also denied that Whitman Inc. was involved in Campbell's decision.

Politicos figure that Whitman was too smart to ever directly push Campbell out of the contest. But given that her political guru Mike Murphy sent that memo to Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner suggesting that Poizner instead run for Senate in 2012, it is evident that Whitman Inc. wanted to clear the field for governor. And Campbell had to be aware that the doors of GOP biggies supporting Whitman suddenly would swing open for him if he jumped to the Senate race. Whitman didn't need to push Campbell out. Her money did all the work.

So Campbell moved. And as fast as corn popping, former Secretary of State George Shultz became Camp Campbell's honorary chair, and Whitman fundraising dynamo Kristin Hueter added Campbell to her client list. (Said Hueter: "It's a lie if somebody says there was a deal cut for Tom to pull out of the race.")

However, it worked: The power of Whitman's money -- she has plunked $39 million into her campaign -- completely transformed not only the governor's race, but also the now three-way Senate primary.

The bad news, ladies: Sisterhood is not all-powerful. The biggest loser of a move to reorder the chessboard that has boosted Whitman's chances could be Carly Fiorina, the other female former CEO in California running in a statewide GOP primary. One theory -- denied by Whitman Inc. -- is that Whitman wants Campbell to beat the former Hewlett-Packard CEO because she does not want to share the GOP ballot with another ex-CEO political rookie.

The last Field Poll showed Senate-race newcomer Campbell beating Fiorina 28 percent to 22 percent in the primary.

Or, maybe not. The latest (and more recent) Public Policy Institute of California poll shows Fiorina ahead with 24 percent of the primary vote to Campbell's 23 percent. "Don't know" enjoyed a resounding lead with 44 percent of those polled, while Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore trailed with 8 percent.

DeVore's numbers illustrate how wrong strategists, like the rest of us, can be. DeVoreans were gleeful at the prospect of Campbell jumping in and splitting the moderate Republican vote. "That obviously didn't happen," DeVore spokesman Joshua Trevino conceded Thursday.

Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said of Campbell's rival candidacy, "In some way, it helps us define Carly for Republican primary voters because you have Tom Campbell to the far left, Chuck DeVore to the far right, and Carly, who's a mainstream conservative and also the only political outsider in the race." Yeah, sure.

A law school dropout who started as a secretary and rose to become the only female CEO of a Fortune 20 company, Fiorina is a true American success story. On the downside, her tenure at HP was highly controversial, involved layoffs and ended in 2005 with a $21.4 million golden parachute. Like Whitman, Fiorina has no political experience and a spotty voting record.

Until Campbell got into the race, the GOP establishment considered Fiorina, who put $2.5 million of her own money into her campaign, as the candidate who could beat Boxer. Now, the insider consensus is split between Fiorina and Campbell.

DeVore wins the Tea Party endorsement this weekend. Like Fiorina, he signed a no-new-taxes pledge. Like Fiorina, he opposes abortions. He is a happy warrior, and fun to watch. But he refused to vote to confirm Republican Abel Maldonado to fill the vacant lieutenant governor's seat because Maldonado has supported modest tax increases. In choosing to abstain on the Maldonado vote, he somehow managed to be both too cute and too ideologically pure.

Campbell's flaws and strengths are one: He is not your standard political animal. He refused to sign the same no-new-taxes pledge, telling the Sacramento Bee that while he could not imagine voting for any tax increases, he believes in keeping all options open.

He is no a firebrand. You have to remind people he ran against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2000.

But with his support for same-sex marriage and abortion rights, it should be very difficult for Boxer to paint Campbell as a right-wing fanatic, as she has done in every election since winning her seat in 1992. As Hueter noted, "Tom Campbell could beat Barbara Boxer. Carly Fiorina, probably not."

On Wednesday, Attorney General Jerry Brown, the almost-certain Democratic gubernatorial nominee, addressed the Alliance of California Law Enforcement and signaled how he plans to run against Whitman -- with Wall Street in disrepute, he went after the CEO mentality.

You can see, then, why Whitman might prefer to be the only money honey on the GOP ballot. Likewise, Fiorina. But as the huge sweeps in polling and politics have shown, in six months, the landscape could be entirely different.


See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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