An Election Lesson: Moving from Business to Politics Is Tough

Meg WhitmanRepublicans Linda McMahon and John Raese weren't able to translate their business success to politics Tuesday, losing closely watched races for the U.S. Senate on a night of huge gains for the GOP. Many other executives, including former Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO Carly Fiorina and former eBay (EBAY) CEO Meg Whitman, both in California, also lost. (Fiorina ran for a U.S. Senate seat, and Whitman ran for the California governor's office.)

The results so far underscore the pitfalls that face executives who feel the call to serve the public. Many fail to realize that while business and politics share some similarities, there are some important differences. For one thing, members of the opposing party can be more difficult to deal with than any board of directors. Then there's the matter of the press, whose close scrutiny can trip up even the most press-savvy executives. Finally, there's no guarantee that a high-profile businessperson -- even one who spends millions of his or her own money seeking elective office -- will get a return on that investment.

Outwrestled by a Democrat

McMahon, for instance, vowed to spend $50 million of her own money on her Senate race against Democrat Richard Blumenthal, the well-known Connecticut attorney general. But McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), lost the bout. Her defeat was no surprise: Heading into the election, McMahon trailed Blumenthal 46% to 53%, according to Rasmussen Reports. And McMahon's husband, current WWE Chief Executive Vince McMahon, drew a warning from the U.S. Department of Justice over his plans to give away WWE-themed merchandise at the polls.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, Raese -- who heads Greer Industries, a limestone, steel, asphalt and media company owned by his family -- lost his race for the Senate seat that had been held for more than 50 years by the late Sen. Robert Byrd. Popular West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, won the seat. In the high-turnout race, Raese was unable to shake lingering doubts about his commitment to the job. For instance, reporters discovered that his family lives in Palm Beach, Fla., and his wife, Liz, is registered to vote in that state. He was also ridiculed over a casting call for a National Republican Senatorial Committee TV commercial, which called for actors with a "hicky" look.

Republican businessman Ron Johnson has fared better, defeating incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold for a Wisconsin Senate seat. Many pundits had predicted that Feingold would lose. Republican Rick Scott, whose tenure as the head of HCA was tainted by the discovery of Medicare fraud, is locked in a heated battle with Democrat Alex Sink for the Florida governor's office. Scott spent $73 million of his own money on the campaign. The latest results showed Scott ahead, but the race remained too close to call by Tuesday's end.

Meanwhile, Democrat Jerry Brown won a "decisive victory" over Whitman, who poured more than $100 million of her own money into her campaign. And Boxer's victory over Fiorina, who spent $1 million of her cash, was a rare setback in a big night for the Republicans. For complete coverage, see AOL's Politics Daily.

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