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From eBay to the Governor's Mansion for Meg Whitman?


Former CEO may be eying California's top political prize.

Meg Whitman's ability to read a balance sheet may give her an edge if she decides run for governor of California.

That state's projected budget deficit is now about $28 billion, the result of massive over-spending and the inaction of the wussified former bodybuilder and Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Term limits will force Schwarzenegger to return to Hollywood in 2010. That means no incumbent - and an opportunity for ambitious politicians.

Whitman resigned from the boards of Procter & Gamble (PG), DreamWorks Animation and eBay (EBAY) due to what her spokesperson called "personal reasons and time commitments." That's almost certainly boilerplate from someone cranking up a statewide campaign.

Whitman served as John McCain's national co-chairperson and was the Arizona senator's pick to be Secretary of the Treasury, had he won the presidential race in November. But the 52-year-old Silicon Valley whiz may see the California governorship as a stepping stone to the White House.

That path worked for Ronald Reagan, who was elected governor in 1966 and also faced a state in disarray. The Gipper won the White House in 1980 and served 2 terms. Reagan ran as an outsider for both governor and president, a tactic Whitman is likely to follow.

But running as an outsider also may be her biggest liability, since it's unclear whether the skills needed to build a successful company would translate into cracking heads in Sacramento - where lawmakers have become accustomed to buying their reelection by spending other people's money on their pet projects.

Whitman's entrepreneurial background almost certainly would play well in a state noted for its technological innovation. She would also have an understanding of the financing that farmers need each season to plant their crops. This is critical, considering agriculture is the state's number-1 industry - one capable of making hefty campaign contributions.

Other Republicans lining up for a possible run for governor include state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner and former congressman Tom Campbell. Whitman has 'em beat in the charisma department.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, now California's attorney general, leads among Democrats, but that could change if Senator Dianne Feinstein enters the race. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may also run, especially if Brown or Feinstein steps aside.

Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, was elected to the US Senate in 1992 and has established strong, liberal credentials in a blue state. Her age, like Brown's, may, however, be an issue.

Newsom and Villaraigosa are solid California mayors.

Whitman isn't yet a household name, and that gives her the opportunity to define herself for voters. In a state whose budget deficit continues to grow and whose once-stellar institutions, such as the University of California, have been sadly diminished by the current government, Whitman may also benefit from a desire for new leadership in the state capital.
But keep in mind: Whitman hasn't said anything official or even set up an "exploratory committee."

Heh. As they say in New York, if you believe that, we've got a nice bridge to sell you. (The Golden Gate will do in a pinch.)

Barring armageddon, look for Whitman to run. Things may be falling into place for her to win the first round on what many see as her goal to become the nation's first female president.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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