OAKLAND — Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was in town Tuesday for some face time with a big employer and corporate campaign donor, but not to answer any questions about policy issues or the state of the race.

The former eBay CEO was at Union Pacific's intermodal facility at the Port of Oakland for about two hours, long enough to tour the rail yard; meet with company officials; and do a closed-door interview with a conservative columnist — but not long enough to take any questions from reporters the campaign had invited, who were allowed only to watch a five-minute exchange between the candidate and corporate public relations staffers.

During that brief chat, Whitman said it had been "a really good morning for me" with "a couple of 'a-ha's'" as she learned "how important Union Pacific is" to California's economy by virtue of the huge volume of freight it moves in and out of the state.

The state's business atmosphere directly affects how much a company such as Union Pacific is willing to invest in its infrastructure here, she said, noting that rolling back clean-air and other environmental-quality regulations would let such companies "spend money here faster."

Scott Moore, the company's vice president of public affairs, agreed.

"We appreciate your pro-business stance for California," public relations director Wes Lujan chimed in.

Campaign staffers then spent about another five minutes trying to usher reporters from the room so Whitman could talk to San Francisco columnist Debra Saunders.

Lujan later said Union Pacific will be contributing to Whitman's campaign "in the near future."

A few reporters waited in front of the building for Whitman to emerge from her interview with the columnist. Staffers were eager enough to keep them from the candidate that they moved their vehicles to the building's rear; when reporters went there, the staffers then drove back around front to pick up Whitman and drive off.

A Whitman spokeswoman said Union Pacific had asked that no news media accompany Whitman on her tour of the facility; Moore told one reporter that it was the campaign's decision.

Whitman has put more than $39 million of her personal fortune into her campaign so far, and polls show she has a comfortable lead over her GOP primary competitor, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. But although Whitman has spent months burnishing her conservative credentials and airing radio and television ads, the California Republican Assembly — the GOP's conservative grass roots arm — this past weekend endorsed Poizner.

Read the Political Blotter at www.ibabuzz.com/politics.