Former eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman officially launched her bid to seek the Republican nomination for California governor on Monday, capping a yearlong tour on the political stage after leaving her high-profile Silicon Valley post.
The 52-year-old political neophyte began testing her affinity for politics after leaving a 10-year stint with the online auction site last January. She served as finance chairwoman for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and then as a national co-chair of John McCain's.
"California faces challenges unlike any other time in its history -- a weak and faltering economy, massive job losses and an exploding state budget deficit," Whitman said in a statement on her Web site. "California is better than this, and I refuse to stand by and watch it fail."
Whitman was not available for interviews Monday, said her spokesman, Mitch Zak.
Whitman will face Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, another wealthy former Silicon Valley executive, and former Rep. Tom Campbell, in the Republican primary in June 2010.
Whichever candidate emerges from the GOP field will face a stiff challenge in the 2010 general election as the party continues to lose voters. Republicans accounted for 31.4 percent of registered voters last November, a slide of more than 3 percentage points since the 2004 elections. The party, which has grown more conservative in recent years as California voters have become more centrist, has been shedding voters for more than a decade as the ranks of independents in California has grown.
President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger John McCain by 24 percentage points last year, the widest margin in a California presidential race since World War II.
Former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, who will serve as Whitman's campaign chairman, said the party needs a compelling candidate like Whitman to revive itself.
"I think that she will be sort of a classic California Republican who demands that money be spent wisely, and not too much of it, and not more than we have," Wilson said in an interview Monday. "She will definitely be a taxpayer's friend and a friend to the people who create jobs."
Whitman promoted her financial experience during the presidential campaign but has not revealed her positions on social issues such as abortion, stem-cell research and the death penalty. She supported the gay marriage ban approved by California voters in November.
Poizner is also considered a social moderate. His communications director, Kevin Spillane, said Whitman's decision is a sign of strength for the state GOP.
"Campaigns are about differences and we look forward to Meg Whitman and other Republican candidates joining Steve Poizner in a vigorous discussion about who has the hands-on experience, innovative ideas and conservative instincts to save California," Spillane said in a statement.
Whitman's announcement Monday that she had formed an exploratory committee is the first step toward an official run for governor. She had not reported any financial contributions to the secretary of state's office as of Monday.
Within hours of her announcement, a conservative attorney who is seeking the state party's nomination as vice chairman filed a complaint with the state's elections watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Thomas Hudson alleges that Whitman has been running a de facto campaign for months but has failed to report thousands of dollars in spending as required by California law.
"It has been widely reported in the press that candidate has retained, hired and fired numerous campaign consultants, press assistants, pollsters, attorneys and campaign organizers over the last many months," Tom Hudson wrote.
In response, Zak said, "The complaint is a political stunt and has no merit."
The Republican nominee will face a crowded Democratic field that is expected to include former governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has not said whether she will run or remain in Congress.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is prohibited from running again under the state's term-limits law and will leave office in January 2011. His moderate social and fiscal positions have often put him at odds with the state Republican Party and the Bush administration.