During a recent campaign event at online review company Yelp in San Francisco, former eBay C-E-O Meg Whitman faced a tough crowd:
"Why would you both knowingly and purposely run a campaign that is based on lies? Isn't it cynical and disingenuous approach to Democracy to spend 100 million dollars on television commercials?"
The questions from Yelp employees Susan McKay and Aaron Vinson clearly were not pre-selected by the campaign. Whitman smiled, unflustered, and defended herself:
"My view is I have to, as a serious candidate for Governor, actually point out Jerry Brown's real record."
Whitman's answer may or may not have changed minds at Yelp. But Barbara O'Connor, an Emeritus Professor of Communications at Sacramento State says the situation illustrates Whitman's evolution as a candidate over the past year-and-a-half.
"Meg Whitman has gotten more comfortable in dealing with interviews and people and she really a novice at that. Despite being head of eBay, she really didn't have to deal with the public much. So she is ready for prime time."
Besides eBay, Whitman worked for San Francisco-based consulting firm Bain and Company. She's a billionaire who was also an executive at Disney and was ranked by Fortune magazine as the most powerful woman in business. She says her campaign has three central themes:
"Creating a better business climate in California so we put Californians back to work. We've got to get government spending under control so it's not so expensive to do business and to live in California and we've got to fix K-12 education."
Recently Whitman spoke at a Sacramento-area company that recycles laser printer cartridges. Her plans for small business got a friendlier reception:
"I want to put a moratorium on all new regulations. Could we please stop the madness here…clapping fades."
Whitman also wants to eliminate 40-thousand state jobs, expand the research and development tax credit and eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing equipment. Whitman's ideas might remind you of another wealthy Republican with limited political experience. Here's then-candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger during a debate in the 2003 recall election.
" We have the worst economic atmosphere in California and what we see is because of that businesses are leaving the state and jobs are leaving the state."
Jack Pitney is a Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College. He says there are some similarities between candidate and incumbent:
"Neither of them has a reputation as a social conservative, both of them talking about the need to develop jobs and clean up the mess left by the predecessor…course in Meg Whitman's case the predecessor is Arnold Schwarzenegger."
That's why Pitney says Whitman has tried to distance herself from the Governor. He points out that working with the Democratic-controlled legislature can be a challenge for a Republican.
" Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was going to blow up the boxes and the boxes turned out to be pretty sturdy. The question for Whitman is how is she going to succeed where Schwarzenegger failed?"
Whitman's highly produced TV ads have been hard to miss. She's spent 119 million dollars of her own money - a new national record for a self-funded candidate. She says it's been necessary to compete against Jerry Brown's name recognition. And she says her wealth has another advantage:
"I think what the investment of my own money in this race does is it gives me an independence so that when I go to Sacramento I don't owe anybody anything except for the voters of California."
Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College says she has a point…but there's more to it than that:
"Though there are other problems that come with great wealth. Does Meg Whitman have the same kind of empathy for ordinary people as somebody who isn't as wealthy as she is and I think that's a fair question too."
"She's a really nice, normal person."
Joan O.C. Hamilton helped Whitman write a book on business strategy recently.
"She doesn't have people sort of fawning over her and doing her errands for her. She tries to maintain and does so quite effortlessly - a normal life."
Hamilton was a correspondent for Business week for many years. She says Whitman is funny and down-to-earth. Hamilton says Whitman's time at eBay gave her experience that might be useful if she were elected Governor:
"It actually involved a lot of issues that are sort of similar to what you do when you're running a country, even. I mean, they practically had to establish a penal code. It was just a mystery what the rules should really be and there were constantly oddball things coming up when they set up eBay and it was growing."
"I'd say they'd say that I was a tough mom, but fair. You know we did a lot of things together as a family. We hiked and we fished and we traveled throughout CA. I think they're very proud of me. It takes a lot of courage to run for Governor. It's a big undertaking and I think they're proud of their Mom that I've taken this on."
Like Governor Schwarzenegger, Whitman says she won't take a salary if elected - but unlike him, she says she'll move to Sacramento.