National Republican leaders lined up behind GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman at a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser Friday night, with stars such as U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz joining Whitman on the stage of the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood City.
The event, however, hit a few bumps before it got started, with a running protest organized by the California Nurses Association crashing the fundraiser.
Dozens of demonstrators, many wearing blond wigs modeled after Whitman's cut, surprised the well-dressed attendees by descending from the hotel's elevators and approaching within feet of the ballroom's doors, observers said.
Many of the same protesters, led by Los Angeles teacher and actress Elaine Burn who was dressed as Queen Meg, had also protested outside a Whitman fundraiser in Sacramento this afternoon and at another Whitman fundraiser in Beverly HIlls last night. This was the first time they made it into the venue of the fundraiser.
All was calm by the time the event got under way inside the ballroom where the guests outdid each other in praising Whitman. For her part, Whitman called both McCain and Shultz, individually, "a great American and great patriot."
Romney lauded the virtues of examining state budgets as if they were corporate balance sheets and cutting waste. He also lambasted what he said were Sacramento's anti-business ways.
"California politicians have smothered the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation," Romney said.
Bush talked about how he had implemented more testing and accountability in Florida schools, and said Whitman would do the same in California.
"I know she has the fortitude, the determination, the skill and the leadership to stay the course and take on the adults in the system," Bush said.
McCain bemoaned what he said were out-of-the-control government deficits, stating almost sadly, "It matters what happens in California."
While lamenting the extreme partisanship he saw in Washington, McCain then zinged the Democrats, calling the health care negotiations "the sleaziest process I've ever seen."
Yet McCain also had some hard words for his own party.
"We Republicans have to tell America to give us another chance," he said. "Because we let spending get out of control. One of the first things we have to do is to promise the people we will stop the spending."
Whitman worked on the presidential campaigns of both Romney and McCain in 2008. Both Romney and Bush are possible presidential candidates in 2012.
Later, while speaking to reporters, Whitman declined to take a position on a new law signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that makes it a crime to be in Arizona without legal immigration papers and requires police to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.
"I haven't looked at the bill in great detail," Whitman said. "I will tell you, before I did that, I would want to secure the border of the United States, I would want to build the economic fence and I'd want to eliminate sanctuary cities. And my belief is that that will get you most of the way home to solve the immigration problem."
About new polls showing rival Steve Poizner coming within 22 percentage points of her, Whitman said she had anticipated the trend, adding, "I will always run this race like I'm 10 points behind, and that's how you win races."
PHOTO: Meg Whitman and her husband Griffith Harsh greet well-wishers at a Friday fundraiser in Redwood City. Jack Chang/Sacramento Bee