Debra J. Saunders
Mitt Romney is the front-runner in the GOP presidential primary. In recent debates, the former Massachusetts governor has shone while Texas Gov. Rick Perry has stumbled. Those who were hoping for a candidate with more seasoning (Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels), more principle (House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan) or more pizazz (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie) are starting to face facts. They're stuck with the dates who actually knocked at the door. And many are thinking that Romney is the Republican likeliest to prevail against President Barack Obama.

My question: Is Romney really the most electable Republican?

That's what the smart money said about Meg Whitman when she ran for California governor in 2010. Like Romney, Whitman boasted that it was a plus that she was not a "career politician." As the former eBay CEO -- who, by the way, used to work on Romney's turf at Bain & Co. -- she claimed the boardroom savvy and leadership style needed to woo voters desperate for a competent executive who could improve California's business climate.

Career politicians such as former California Gov. Pete Wilson rallied behind Whitman. She, they insisted, would be a stronger nominee than California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner or former Rep. Tom Campbell. But after Whitman used her fortune to win the nod, Democrat Jerry Brown trounced her, 54-41 percent.

Now, Romney is not Whitman. He is an experienced candidate and has served in public office. And Whitman didn't help herself by pouring nearly $150 million of her own money into her campaign. She made it too easy for critics (like me) to charge that she was trying to buy the election.

Also, Romney doesn't have to win California to win the White House. _But Whitman's loss demonstrates how Democrats can turn private-sector gold into electoral tin. Call it reverse alchemy.

Whitman had the perfect calling card -- eBay, a popular, successful company with big brand identification. No worries. Opponents tied her to another, unpopular corporation, Goldman Sachs, because she had been on the investment firm's board in 2001.

Most voters never have heard of Romney's baby, Bain Capital. If Romney is the GOP nominee, however, folks will hear plenty about every worker layoff and plant closing that occurred under the investment firm's direction.

Career politicians know better than to hire illegal immigrants. Actually, so did Whitman. She went through a service to find a part-time housekeeper. She paid Nicandra Diaz Santillan $23 per hour. When Diaz told Whitman she was undocumented in 2009, Whitman fired her. When Diaz went public in September 2010, the controversy shut down any chance Whitman had of winning the governor's office.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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