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The Sarah Palin Effect in California Politics

Sarah Palin speaks during the vice presidential debate at the Field House of Washington University's Athletic Complex on October 2, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Chip Somodevilla
Sarah Palin speaks during the vice presidential debate at the Field House of Washington University's Athletic Complex on October 2, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri.

When Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced she would resign from office a full 18 months before the end of her term, some concluded that she was positioning herself for a 2012 run for president. Others believed she was bowing out of politics after the drubbing she took during and after last year’s presidential campaign, when she was the Republican vice presidential nominee. I’m not speculating on her future.

What I do believe is that her famously-dramatic and fashion-filled days on the media-rich campaign trail, running as the first-ever female Republican vice presidential candidate, opened a very important window for attractive, accomplished Republican women to try for other high offices. For example, California has never had a Republican woman governor or U.S. Senator. In fact, there’s never been a GOP woman nominated for either office.

That could change. On February 10 of this year, former eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, who became very rich as an internet executive, entered the race for California governor. She is untested politically, although she was an adviser to the McCain for President campaign. But she has already raised many millions for her campaign and is capable of self-financing with many millions more. In addition, she hooked a big fish to be her campaign chairman: former California Governor and U.S. Senator (and former San Diego Mayor) Pete Wilson.

Like Palin, her life has a storybook quality to it. Whitman grew up in a wealthy family living in a posh waterfont community. She was a talented high school athlete and captain of her swimming team. Instead of going to medical school as planned, she married a medical student who became a brain surgeon. She’s the first woman to become a billionaire because of stock holdings in an internet company and her two sons attend Princeton.

Of course, Sarah Palin’s story as a mayor, governor, moose-hunter, beauty queen, married to an Iron Dog champion, mother of five, grandmother and GOP nominee for president is unmatchable. But Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of corporate giant Hewlett-Packard has a compelling background from which to launch a possible campaign as the Republican contender for California Democrat Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat in 2010. Her father was a law school educator and federal judge who expected her to follow into that field. But she dropped out of law school, went for her MBA, started at the bottom as a temp and trainee, and worked up to become the most powerful woman in business, according the 1998 listing by Fortune magazine. When she resigned from HP under pressure, she was paid more than $20 million in severance. She stepped into politics during McCain’s presidential campaign, but some comments she made in an interview reportedly made the McCain campaign furious. On August 19th, after a bout with breast cancer, she launched an exploratory committee for her possible bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

Where would Sarah Palin stand with either woman’s candidacy? Palin explains she is pro-life and against same-sex marriage, supports the teaching of creationism in public school, is a lifelong NRA member and supports the constitutional right to bear arms. Whitman and Fiorina differ on the abortion issue. The gubernatorial candidate is pro-choice, while Fiorina declares she’s pro-life. California conservatives will support Fiorina’s views, while California voters are likely to side with Whitman on this issue.

Whitman favors tough gun laws and parental abortion consent. Fiorina opposes gun laws. Neither has a strong voting history which they readily admit and acknowledge they were wrong. But despite this weakness, both remain frontrunners as Republicans continue their new found love affair with strong female candidates with sizzle.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.