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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xonon1

Obama has no experience with business as does 80% of his appointees. They have lived off our tax dollars all their lives. Is it any wonder the economy stinks under this administration?

November 03 2010 at 10:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
xonon1

Californians hate anyone who is successful in business. They love losers. Gavin Newsome, former mayor of SF, wins Lt governor. Newsome had sex with his chief of staff's wife, fired the chief of staff, divorced his own wife, announced he was an alcoholic, went into rehab and was re elected mayor in a landslide and now Lt. governor. Californians are crazy, stupid, dumb, idiots or all of the above. California elects Brown to lead them further down the financial toilet as Brown pays off his union cronies. There is no hope for the future of CA. The wealthy and companies are leaving in droves. No amount of nice weather can compensate for stupid CA politics.

November 03 2010 at 10:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
cclawnj

The lesson here is that as much as people hate incumbents, they hate CEOs more.

November 03 2010 at 7:29 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Mel

Linda McMahon are you married to that "thing?" No wonder you lost.

November 03 2010 at 6:55 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
rgsantaclara

I can't believe anyone would spend a 100 million dollars to get elected to the governor's seat! Even if you got elected, how can you justify the outlay to sit in the governor's chair? I believe that this futile waste of money and energy is best explained by the old adage: Not knowing when to say When!! I believe this will be a lesson that many future aspiring candidates will never forget! I take solace in the fact that Goveror Arnold Schwartznegger knew better than to take sides or more importantly to run for reelection!!!

November 03 2010 at 5:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to rgsantaclara's comment
xonon1

At least it was her own money. Brown got elected with $300 million of Union money behind him. Which is worse? Now Brown owes the unions. Whitman would not have owed anyone anything by spending her own cash. But Californians are stupid.

November 03 2010 at 10:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill

LOL, some good ones today. Next time they should put even more money into winning.

November 03 2010 at 5:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nmscl

Count on AOL to run another stupid article that has no basis in fact. It assumes you hve to be phony like Obama to get elected but people in business are incompetent.If anything they are not sleazy enough.

November 03 2010 at 4:42 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
chattchat3

So is her name Janie or Loren?

November 03 2010 at 3:05 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to chattchat3's comment
marcellalasley

I can't believe that Harry Reid won in Nevada. The election tampering and all of the 'wonderful ILLEGAL' votes. Harry Reid should be thrown out of office and tarred and feathered. Along with Obama. We have had enough of corrupt government. I do not want this awful healthcare plan that has been shoved down our throats nor do I want anything that has to do with Obama and his criminals that he surrounds himself with. They are all evil..GOD help our country

November 03 2010 at 2:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
punnster

That is unfortunate. We need more business minded people in our government, not just politicians that think they can manage economy and government organization with political ideologies.

November 03 2010 at 2:26 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply