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Whitman, Fiorina win California GOP primaries

Former Silicon Valley CEOs win Republican primaries for governor and U.S. senator, while ex-Facebook privacy chief Chris Kelly, a Democrat, fails in bid for attorney general.

File: U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina speaks at 2008 Republican national convention. Declan McCullagh/CNET

Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, two ex-Silicon Valley executives who pledged to use their business acumen to address economic problems, handily won their respective Republican nominations for governor and U.S. Senate in California's primary election on Tuesday.

Their primary victories are likely to lead to a bruising and expensive general election campaign against their Democratic rivals: onetime Gov. Jerry Brown, who is seeking to reclaim his old job, and incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has been in the U.S. Congress for nearly 28 years.

"Californians have had enough of a government that is out of control, out of touch and addresses every problem with more bureaucracy and more spending," Fiorina said on Tuesday evening.

With nearly half of the votes counted, Whitman claimed about 64 percent, or 720,000 votes, well ahead of tech entrepreneur Steve Poizner. Fiorina won about 56 percent, or 613,574 votes. Of California's approximately 15.3 million registered voters, no more than roughly 15 percent participated in the election.

For ex-tech executives, it was a better day to be a Republican than a Democrat. As the vote count continued around 11:30 p.m. PT, former Facebook privacy chief Chris Kelly was trailing San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris by about 16 percentage points--likely an insurmountable lead--for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general.

Kelly had sunk more than $12 million of his own money into his campaign. He obtained a loan from a private equity firm in Delaware to exercise his stock options in Facebook, and then sold enough shares to repay the loan and fund his campaign, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.

The Kelly campaign sought to turn his experience at the social-networking company into a campaign asset, stressing in a advertisement that he was "top legal counsel at Facebook" and arguing that it gave him insight into "better, smarter ways to solve problems."

If the election had been held a year ago, that might have been received well by voters. But after a series of high-profile privacy flaps, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg's remarks last December about pushing users to disclose more and an almost-apology from Zuckerberg last month, that Facebook experience became a liability. Harris, his rival, created an video saying Kelly "designed Facebook privacy policy" and "released your private information."

Kelly wasn't the only candidate turning to his personal funds to pay campaign bills. Whitman is estimated to have spent more than $80 million to defeat California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, which is only a small fraction of her total fortune. Forbes has estimated her net worth to be closer to $1.3 billion.

After joining eBay in March 1998, Whitman successfully navigated the company through the dot-com boom and bust and on to near cult-like popularity in what became known as the "eBay economy." She departed in 2008, saying that no CEO should stay longer than 10 years, leaving eBay to face stiff competition from and criticism for having bought Skype and then selling it at a loss.

In the case of HP, the board asked Fiorina to step down in February 2005. (Board members claimed at the time that the unceremonious departure was due the poor execution of HP's acquisition of Compaq three years earlier, not the notion that adding Compaq's hefty PC and server market share to HP's high-end servers and printers could make the company a global hardware powerhouse.)

Since then, Fiorina began to spend more time in political circles, including stumping for Republican presidential nominee John McCain, reportedly flirting with the idea of running for lieutenant governor, and speaking at the 2008 Republican Party convention in St. Paul, Minn.