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Wealthy businesswomen win California Republican races


Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman celebrates after winning the Republican nomination for California governor in Los Angeles, California, June 8, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman celebrates after winning the Republican nomination for California governor in Los Angeles, California, June 8, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Peter Henderson and Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Two powerful Silicon Valley businesswomen won Republican nominations for California governor and the Senate on Tuesday after capitalizing on their business acumen -- and their personal fortunes.

California Republicans, who see a grim future for their economically battered state, chose former eBay Inc chief Meg Whitman to face former Democratic governor Jerry Brown in the race to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Confidence in government is scraping bottom in the most populous U.S. state, which is facing record 12.6 percent unemployment and a $20 billion government budget gap.

Carly Fiorina, another wealthy political novice and former chief executive of computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co, trounced her opponents to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in California.

Both women led their closest opponents by more than two-to-one in early returns, and local media projected they would win.

Fiorina will face Senator Barbara Boxer, a powerful liberal Democrat and ally of President Barack Obama on climate change, which may be a major issue in the November races.

"Career politicians in Sacramento and Washington be warned -- you now face your worst nightmare: two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done!" Whitman said in a victory speech.

But Brown lambasted Whitman for a "billionaire's demolition derby" of out-of-control campaign spending.

Whitman has put the governor's race on track to be the most expensive contest in U.S. history outside a presidential election, spending some $80 million in the primary and donating $91 million to herself. Her opponent also spent millions.

"They both say they want to run the state like a business but they set a national record for excessive spending," Brown told supporters, according to a campaign statement.

CREATURE OF WALL ST.

The Democrats faced no real opposition in the primaries while Whitman's opponent Steve Poizner called her a creature of Wall Street, because she was a director at Goldman Sachs for about a year, and Fiorina rival Tom Campbell derided her controversial tenure at HP.

Those themes are likely to rise again, said Dan Schnur, recently appointed chairman of California's Fair Political Practices Commission.

"We're currently experiencing the greatest wave of populist anger that the body politic has seen in almost 20 years in the country, but the only people that voters dislike as much as career politicians are wealthy CEOs. We'll see who they hate more this November," he said.

Voters also approved a massive change in voting rules that will turn party primary elections into an open first round election that chooses two finalists -- who could be from the same party -- to face off in the general election.

Supporters had argued politicians would be forced to move toward the middle, easing gridlock that has stopped budget reform in its tracks. Local media also forecast the result based on early returns.

California has a long history of voting for political outsiders, such as current Governor Schwarzenegger, a former movie star, and polls show voter trust in government near all-time lows.

Brown became governor the first time in 1975, before term limits, and built a quirky reputation by eschewing the governor's mansion and dating singer Linda Ronstadt.

Brown argues that he can reform the system from within, while Whitman, who has quickly gained comfort as a campaigner, says she brings an independence and business-like focus that a career politician cannot match.

Fiorina offers a rags-to-riches tale of rising from secretary to chief executive and espouses conservative social values while Boxer is seeking a fourth Senate term and is an iconic liberal.

Whitman and Brown offered "one of the great contrasts of American politics going into the fall," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former speechwriter for former Governor Pete Wilson.

"If elected he would be the nation's only septuagenarian governor, in a state that worships youth. She's never served a day in office," Whalen said.

(Reporting by Peter Henderson, Jim Christie and Dan Whitcomb, editing by Anthony Boadle)

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