How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Meeting Governor Arnold...and Meg and Carly's political chances

August 25, 2010: 12:54 PM ET

by Patricia Sellers

Sometimes Los Angeles behaves like a small town.

This past Sunday, I ran into Maria Shriver at Room at the Beach, a Malibu store owned by my friend Elizabeth Lamont.

The next morning, coincidentally, I had breakfast with a close friend/colleague of Shriver. And no sooner did I sit down at Le Pain Quotidien than the Governator walked in. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was on his way to Sacramento, presumably to save the bootstrapped Golden State.

He was chatty. And when I told him that I wrote a Fortune cover story last year about Meg Whitman, the eBay (EBAY) CEO-turned-politician, the Governor asked me if I thought she would win in November. "Well, do you think she'll get your job?" I responded.

I can't share our exact conversation, but my takeaway was this: Whitman has two very tough months ahead. Last week, she became the $100 million woman.--having spent more than $100 million personally on her campaign for California governor. This is reportedly a record for a non-Presidential run. And to what end? Whitman is neck and neck with Jerry Brown, her Democratic opponent.. While she is the fiscal conservative policy-wise, he is the spendthrift personally. Brown, 72, has spent hardly any money and is coasting on his history and fame.

Whitman, 54, is doing all she can to pop Brown's bubble. She told those gathered at this past weekend's Republican convention in San Diego: "Finally, after 40 years in politics, three presidential runs, four years as attorney general, four years as secretary of state, eight years as mayor of Oakland and two terms as governor, we once and for all are going to say goodbye to Jerry Brown's failed ideas and broken promises."

I couldn't resist asking the current Governor about the other famous businesswoman who once topped Fortune's Most Powerful Women rankings and is now running for the U.S. Senate. And it's looking like former Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO Carly Fiorina may have an easier shot than Whitman in her first run at big-time politics. Fiorina, 55, is leading Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer in recent polls. Like Whitman, Fiorina is blasting her rival's insider status. "We are going to put an end to her extreme, partisan 28-year-long reign in Washington, D.C.," she said about Boxer at the Republican convention.

While Meg leans more moderate, the ever-fierce Carly has been rallying California's Republican base with staunch conservative stances on immigration, health care reform, and other key issues.

Might we be seeing the renaissance of Carly Fiorina? She's had a challenging afterlife to HP, where the board fired her in 2005. Last year, she battled breast cancer. Mark Hurd's fall at HP, so sudden and stunning, may be the best thing to happen to Fiorina's reputation. Now she looks like the superior leader, by measure of ethics at least, which still matter in politics as well as in business.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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