EBay's Whitman for governor? Not quite yet ...
At a national small business summit, rumors swirl about the former CEO's political ambitions.
WASHINGTON (Fortune Small Business) -- Barely two months after Meg Whitman vacated the CEO position at eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) after a 10-year run, the executive's supporters are eager to see her step into a new power-broker role.
Rumors of political aspirations have long swirled around Whitman, and for a brief moment Monday before her keynote address at the National Federation of Independent Business's annual summit in Washington, D.C., it appeared that she was about to answer the call. After an introduction filled with lofty praise for Whitman's leadership abilities and speculation about where the next stage of her career might take her, NFIB CEO Todd Stottlemyer boisterously welcomed onstage "the next governor of the great state of California," as the audience's front rows erupted with "Whitman for Governor" and "California Loves Meg!!!" placards.
But Whitman quickly shot down the idea, thwarting Stottlemyer's "draft Meg" movement.
"Thank you for the kind words, but we will squash that right now," Whitman said as she took the podium. "Todd gets points for not telling me about that, because he knows I would have stopped him."
Whitman claimed to be entirely focused getting John McCain elected president. In the keynote speech that followed, she mapped out what she sees as the most pressing policy issues affecting small businesses, including a crumbling educational system that produces too few graduates with science and technology skills and a hidebound healthcare system unable to meet the needs of small firms and their employees.
"Health-care expenses are killing employers, and they are strangling wage increases," Whitman said. "This is not a partisan issue. We are willing to work with anyone who shares the goal of making small-business health insurance more affordable, more portable and more effective."
That's a message that resonates with NFIB attendee Joe Balsarotti, president of Software to Go, a St. Peters, Mo., technology equipment vendor. Health care is near the top of the list of issues he cares about this election season, along with reducing government regulation and boosting the sagging economy. So far, no presidential candidates have effectively spoken to the small-business audience, he said.
"Every business owner knows that if your profit goes down, you have to cut something. Government has never learned that," he said.
Key Company President Ted Wenzlick is also waiting for a candidate who can address entrepreneurial concerns, something he feels neither Obama or McCain have yet done. Wenzlick's Kirkwood, Mo., company sells nutritional supplements. Regulation and taxation are two of his key issues: State and local governments are increasingly eying business coffers as they look to close their spending gaps, he said.
As a veteran of a business built around small merchants, Whitman understands small-business concerns, and her presence on McCain's team is encouraging, Balsarotti said. But he would like to see the candidates directly speak about small-business concerns.
John McCain will have that opportunity on Tuesday, when he's scheduled to address NFIB's gathering. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were also invited but declined to attend, according to NFIB officials - an unsurprising absence given the NFIB's historically Republican orientation.
Meanwhile, undaunted by Whitman's insistence that she isn't in the governor race, NFIB CEO Stottlemyer is persevering in his campaign to put her small-business expertise to use in a political office.
Is the NFIB losing its voice?: The premier small-business lobbying group faces a tough new climate.
Elect an entrepreneur: A small-business business owner for president? These Libertarians are ready for the job.
eBay CEO: Tough seller rules here to stay