Ex-eBay chief loses Calif election despite high bid

LOS ANGELES Wed Nov 3, 2010 7:06pm EDT

1 of 2. California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman hugs a supporter after giving her concession speech during her election night rally in Los Angeles, California, November 2, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/David McNew

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the Internet auction business that billionaire Republican Meg Whitman oversaw as the chief executive of eBay Inc, the highest bidder always walks away the winner.

But after spending a record $160-million-plus in her bid to become governor of California, Whitman was forced to walk away the loser in the midst of her party's national midterm election sweep -- trumped by an opponent who spent less than one-sixth what she did.

If there is a lesson to be learned from Whitman's defeat of by Democrat Jerry Brown, it may very well be that having more money than anyone else in politics still has its limitations.

According to the latest figures from state Fair Political Practices Commission, Whitman spent nearly $163 million on her primary and general election campaigns through mid-October, the most by any candidate for public office in the United States.

That comes to about $54 for each of the roughly 3 million votes she garnered against Brown, the current state attorney general and two-term former governor, who spent a comparatively thrifty $25 million, or $6.25 per vote, to win the election by a margin of nearly 1 million ballots.

Whitman also now ranks as the biggest self-funded candidate ever for a single campaign, having contributed $141.5 million of her own money to the effort.

A combination of factors ultimately proved insurmountable, even for Whitman's prodigious bank account in a state where Democrats hold an edge in voter registration.

LITTLE LOVE FROM LATINOS

For starters, she made little headway in winning over Latinos, a key California constituency, despite a Spanish-language media blitz. Whitman's problems were compounded by revelations that she had employed a woman from Mexico for nine years as a housekeeper, then fired the woman when she learned she was an illegal immigrant.

By some accounts Whitman's heavy spending -- much of it poured into television spots attacking Brown -- may actually have worked against her.

"I don't like people paying for the office. You've got to work for it," Andrew Bristow, 45, a registered Republican, said on Tuesday outside a suburban Los Angeles polling station after voting for Brown. "And she was a main mudslinger."

Whitman supporter Jeff Edell, co-CEO of Innovation Pictures and a former chairman of MySpace, said Whitman's hefty expenditures of her own money "showed she really cared," but he conceded that "it distanced her from the normal folk."

As summed up colorfully by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat: "There's an old Beatles song, and it says, 'Money can't buy me love.' And in California, it can't buy you an election, either."

Many voters apparently were not swayed by Whitman's assertion that she had the business savvy to tackle California's tough economic and fiscal challenges, deciding instead that her lack of government experience outweighed her acumen as head of a major Silicon Valley success story.

"Government isn't a business. It can't be run by a billionaire just because they did well with one company," said Alex Friedman, 30, an ambulance driver in San Francisco. "That was the biggest thing for me, because I didn't want to see a CEO running our state."

(Editing by Leslie Adler and Todd Eastham)

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