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Former Mayor Perry: Election last hope for California; backing Whitman
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MANTECA (AP) — Meg Whitman’s shot at the Republican gubernatorial nomination looked as easy as an eBay bid: Plunk down nearly $81 million and wait for the clock to run out.

Yet in the final days before Tuesday’s California primary, the former chief executive of the online auction company is on the defensive, challenged by a well-funded rival who has made an issue of her lack of support for Arizona’s tough immigration law, her ties to embattled Wall Street investment giant Goldman Sachs and her inconsistent record of voting in elections.

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has even tried - in a web-only video - to link her to eBay’s expansion in the online pornography market.

Suddenly, the numbers don’t look as good for Whitman, the 53-year-old billionaire political neophyte who argues that her business expertise as the CEO who built eBay into a Fortune 500 company can turn around California’s woeful finances. Her 50-point lead in the polls has dropped to as low as 10 points amid some wildly fluctuating surveys.

The state’s economy has been hammered especially hard by the recession. The effects of the downturn can be seen just about everywhere in California’s vast Central Valley, one of the most productive stretches of agricultural land in the country but also a region beset by economic turmoil.

Foreclosed homes and storefronts litter the valley’s small towns and line its highways. In some areas, unemployment is above 30 percent.

In the 15 years Tim Drake has owned The Village Sandwich Shoppe in downtown Manteca, business has never been worse. The landlord helped by slashing his rent, but he still had to let waitresses go.

He said he plans to vote for one of the Republicans in the upcoming primary but is among the roughly 30 percent of likely voters who remain undecided. He is doubtful that either candidate can deliver on promises to cut government spending, his top priority.

“It’s gotten totally out of hand. Whether it’s a Republican governor or a Democrat governor, it’s just too much spending,” he said. “There won’t be anything left.”

Carlon Perry, who was mayor of the town about 60 miles south of Sacramento from 1998 to 2002, believes this year’s elections are California’s “last hope.” He said he supports Whitman because she is an outsider who he hopes can do for California what she did for eBay, taking it from a startup to a global force in Internet business.

“We’re going down the drain now,” he said. “You can talk to small businesspeople and talk to the working stiff, and it’s not getting any better for them.”

Waiting for the Republicans is Democrat Jerry Brown, 72, the state attorney general, one-time presidential candidate and former governor who wants his old job back.