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Meg Whitman takes next step in Calif. governor run

Former eBay CEO announces exploratory committee to run as a Republican for California governor in 2010, to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who faces term limits.

Caption: Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman speaks to delegates at the Republican convention last year. Declan McCullagh/CNET

Correction 11:32 a.m. PST: An earlier version of this story misstated the month Meg Whitman stepped down as CEO. It was March 2008.

Last month, the news was that former eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman had taken a tentative step toward running for California governor. On Monday, she took a more definite step by announcing a 2010 exploratory committee.

Whitman, 52, will become the leading Republican candidate to succeed outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger next year, who will retire because of term limits.

"California faces challenges unlike any other time in its history--a weak and faltering economy, massive job losses, and an exploding state budget deficit. California is better than this, and I refuse to stand by and watch it fail," Whitman said in a statement.

The billionaire Internet executive was an adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, and endorsed him during a speech at the party's convention in St. Paul, Minn., last year. Whitman's message at the time: "Higher taxes encourage wasteful spending, demonstrate government's inability to choose among competing priorities, and destroy your prosperity."

Whitman stepped down as CEO of eBay in March 2008, a decade after she transformed the company from a tiny auction site to an Internet icon. During her tenure, the company's split-adjusted share price leaped from just over $1 to a 2004 peak of almost $60, before plummeting to a recent price of under $14.

Even though Whitman is politically untested, she's wealthy enough to fund a serious gubernatorial campaign. Possible primary rivals include State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, another Silicon Valley exec who already holds a statewide office. He founded SnapTrack, a cell phone locating company, and sold it to Qualcomm for $1 billion in January 2000, and also worked in the Bush administration's National Security Council. Another GOP rival could be Tom Campbell, a former U.S. congressman and dean of the business school at University of California at Berkeley.

Democrats that could be contenders in the general election include Attorney General Jerry Brown, who was already governor 30 years ago, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. So is current U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, assuming she's not entirely satisfied by her new job as head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

A Rasmussen poll released last month puts Whitman at 38 percent among California voters, behind Brown but ahead of other potential candidates. Brown has recently attracted criticism for his campaign against California suburbs--including threats of legal action against municipalities that allow single-family homes to be built instead of mandating high-density housing around public transportation.