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Fiorina and Whitman to embrace McCain at GOP convention tonight

September 3, 2008 |  1:38 pm

Tonight is Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's big moment at the GOP convention, when the nation finds out if she's ready for prime time. But the warm-up act includes two powerful women from the technology industry who know how to handle the spotlight (and a wireless microphone) -- Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina.

As our colleagues Maeve Reston and Noam Levey reported today, Whitman, the former chief executive of EBay, will take the stage in St. Paul, Minn., tonight to speak about the economy and energy. Then Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, will speak about what the first term of a McCain presidency would look like.

Whitman and Fiorina are strong backers of McCain. Whitman is co-chair of McCain's campaign, while Fiorina is victory chairman for the Republican National Committee. Both have been mentioned as potential Cabinet secretaries in a McCain administration, and their names appeared on lists of potential running mates before Palin was selected.

For Whitman (pictured above getting close to McCain), the 10-minute speech could help launch a political career. She told the San Jose Mercury News that she'll talk about McCain's plan to cut government spending and lower taxes. She'll also discuss what she called "our generation's moon shot" -- ending the nation's dependency on foreign oil. Her decade leading EBay has made her popular at the convention among users of the auction site, she said.

"They recognize me, and come up and say 'I'm an EBay seller,' or tell me 'I bought my car on EBay,' '' Whitman said.

But leaping into politics ...

... can open you up to criticism on a whole different level than running even a big company like EBay. With Whitman mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice, Jay Leno recently joked on "The Tonight Show" that the choice made sense for the 72-year-old McCain. "You know, she’s an expert at selling Americans really old stuff," he said.

Fiorina has served as a high-level advisor to McCain, vaulting her onto the potential VP lists and raising questions about her future in politics as well. Interestingly, her profile on the Republican National Convention's website lists her as a "political strategist."

Fiorina has actively campaigned for McCain, touting his tech credentials, a task made somewhat harder by his admission that he was computer "illiterate." Her role made her a more likely vice presidential choice than Whitman.

But although McCain opted for a woman, he went outside the business world to grab Palin, the governor of Alaska. Despite some criticism of the choice because of Palin's limited governmental experience and revelations of personal and professional controversies, Whitman and Fiorina have defended the pick.

Fiorina showed she not only can handle the spotlight but knows how to fight back -- something she learned during her tumultuous tenure as HP CEO.

She went on the attack Tuesday, calling Democrats' criticism of Palin sexist.

"The facts are that Sarah Palin has made more executive decisions as a mayor and governor than Barack Obama has made in his life," Fiorina said.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: Sen. John McCain kisses former EBay CEO Meg Whitman at a Washington campaign stop in June. Credit: Charles Dharapak  Associated Press