But in a March 2009 discussion between former PayPal president Rajiv Dutta and Whitman, a transcript of which was published in BusinessWeek, Whitman seemed to characterize her role in the internal eBay porn sales debate as that of an executive who didn't like that business, but was swayed by underlings to embrace it.

"I think if you want to get the very best people, you need to give them degrees of freedom, you need to give them latitude within a set of defined points of view; rules, if you will," she was quoted as saying. "And you need to let them figure it out. And this was a gray area."

Oddly, porn seems to be the only issue where Whitman describes herself as a meek executive who allowed staff to overrule her. In other areas of eBay management, she claims on the campaign trail to have been a strong executive actually in charge. Voters are used to hearing politicians say, "The buck stops here," but they aren't accustomed to hearing it from former executives of businesses that sell sex entertainment.

"I have to believe, at least in a subterranean way, there are people who will start talking about it and be concerned about it," said Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.

That said, he suggests that Republicans' willingness to elevate a sex-business leader to frontrunner status in the gubernatorial primary just might be a sign of change in California politics.

"Part of the issue here is the very interesting question of whether Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a learning experience for state Republicans," Brady said. "He showed that being a moderate on social issues is the way to power in California, but he's been booed at Republican Party conventions. For some, the lesson has been, they really, really don't like that kind of moderation."

Other Republicans, however, have made a gubernatorial primary front-runner of the mastermind behind the easy availability of porn on eBay.

Watching to see whether those porn-tolerant moderates prevail will be, well, delightful.

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