With Whitman and Fiorina, can GOP compete again in California?
California has voted solidly Democratic in recent elections. But the national GOP may be hoping that, with Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina as standard-bearers there, the party can broaden its appeal.
Some call the California Republican primary wins by Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman – both millionaires and former CEOs – a vote for business pragmatism by angry voters frustrated with government ineptitude in America's once-golden state. Others say the victories reflect a conscious push by the state and national Republican party to broaden its appeal to female voters and diversify the face of the GOP.
Either way, Ms. Fiorina versus Ms. Boxer and Ms. Whitman versus Jerry Brown will be two of the most highly watched political showdowns in the country from now until November.
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"One of the greatest challenges for the GOP nationally is diversifying their group of elected office holders," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "Unlike the Democrats, Republican officials at the highest levels are overwhelmingly white and male. That isn't America in the 21st century, and if the GOP wants to continue to win its fair share of elections, it has to change its image."
Though not as wealthy as billionaire former eBay CEO Whitman, Fiorina – former head of Hewlett Packard – has millions of her own to spend. Such funds make the duo even more attractive to national party leaders, whether they can win or not.
"The national GOP wants to make California competitive again, and I think they have decided it's not just a state they should cede to the Democrats," says Lara Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "Under Howard Dean, the Democratic party adopted a 50-state strategy saying the way to build the party back was to get great candidates no matter what," she says. "Meg and Carly are part of the same idea by the GOP and are helping even more because they have their own money and the party doesn't have to invest in them."
Whitman's performance against former Governor Brown, now state attorney general, and Fiorina's ability to unseat three-term US Senate veteran Boxer will depend largely on how the current national mood against incumbents evolves. California's economy – now with 12.8 percent unemployment – will also temper the race. Whitman won her primary, say experts, by emphasizing three priorities – creating jobs, cutting government spending, and fixing California schools.