Debra J. Saunders

Former Congressman Tom Campbell swears that former eBay CEO and gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman did not squeeze him out of the GOP primary for governor and prompt him to switch to the race to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Whitman spokesperson Sarah Pompei also denied that Whitman Inc. was involved in Campbell's decision.

Politicos figure that Whitman was too smart to ever directly push Campbell out of the contest. But given that her political guru Mike Murphy sent that memo to Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner suggesting that Poizner instead run for Senate in 2012, it is evident that Whitman Inc. wanted to clear the field for governor. And Campbell had to be aware that the doors of GOP biggies supporting Whitman suddenly would swing open for him if he jumped to the Senate race. Whitman didn't need to push Campbell out. Her money did all the work.

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So Campbell moved. And as fast as corn popping, former Secretary of State George Shultz became Camp Campbell's honorary chair, and Whitman fundraising dynamo Kristin Hueter added Campbell to her client list. (Said Hueter: "It's a lie if somebody says there was a deal cut for Tom to pull out of the race.")

However, it worked: The power of Whitman's money -- she has plunked $39 million into her campaign -- completely transformed not only the governor's race, but also the now three-way Senate primary.

The bad news, ladies: Sisterhood is not all-powerful. The biggest loser of a move to reorder the chessboard that has boosted Whitman's chances could be Carly Fiorina, the other female former CEO in California running in a statewide GOP primary. One theory -- denied by Whitman Inc. -- is that Whitman wants Campbell to beat the former Hewlett-Packard CEO because she does not want to share the GOP ballot with another ex-CEO political rookie.

The last Field Poll showed Senate-race newcomer Campbell beating Fiorina 28 percent to 22 percent in the primary.

Or, maybe not. The latest (and more recent) Public Policy Institute of California poll shows Fiorina ahead with 24 percent of the primary vote to Campbell's 23 percent. "Don't know" enjoyed a resounding lead with 44 percent of those polled, while Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore trailed with 8 percent.

DeVore's numbers illustrate how wrong strategists, like the rest of us, can be. DeVoreans were gleeful at the prospect of Campbell jumping in and splitting the moderate Republican vote. "That obviously didn't happen," DeVore spokesman Joshua Trevino conceded Thursday.

Debra J. Saunders

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