A Republican primary season marked by a blistering campaign spending spree and less-is-more approach to government comes to an end Tuesday with two wealthy businesswomen poised to make history for the GOP.
Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina have become the front-runners to lead the Republican Party this fall. If the most recent polls hold, it would be the first time the party would have put a woman — much less two — at the top of its ticket in the nation's most populous state.
Whitman has built a wide lead over her rival for the Republican nomination for governor, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, thanks in large part to spending from her personal fortune. The billionaire has spent $81 million so far, all but about $10 million of it from her own bank account.
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Poizner, himself a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has spent $25 million.
Fiorina has had a come-from-behind story in her race for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, greatly outspending her two challengers. She also has appealed to conservative voters with her views on abortion, guns and gay marriage but will face a difficult task trying to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer if she emerges victorious in Tuesday's primary.
Republicans hope the anti-incumbent mood that has swept the nation will help them defeat Boxer and state Attorney General Jerry Brown, two of California's most well-known Democrats. Brown is seeking a comeback as governor, a post he held from 1975-83 in the era before term limits.
Brown emerged from the fog to vote at a fire house in the Oakland hills after walking from his nearby home.
"I feel very confident about this primary election. I'm going to win this one," joked Brown.
Brown said he would not talk about the individual Republicans jockeying to challenge him in the governor's race. But he took a veiled swipe at GOP frontrunner Meg Whitman's reputation for tightly controlled campaign appearances.
"I'm looking forward to a campaign where people get to see the candidates, not just the commericals," Brown said.
Brown and Poizner scheduled public events on Election Day, while Whitman has no planned public appearances, an unusual move for a top-tier candidate.
Whitman's campaign said she will avoid the typical Election Day photo-op because she already has cast her mail-in ballot. Whitman has been criticized for her poor voting record and has acknowledged that she did not vote for most of her life. She had been expected to vote near her home in Atherton, south of San Francisco.
Democrats have been raising money in anticipation of what are expected to be difficult and expensive campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate.
A union-funded group that supports Brown reported raising more than $4 million over the last two weeks and planned to begin airing its first television commercials Wednesday, a day after Republicans select their challengers. Whitman and Fiorina have campaigned on promises to cut government spending.
Beyond the top candidate races, Californians also will decide whether they want to transform the state's primary election process and test public financing of campaigns.
Passage of Proposition 14 would allow all voters to cast ballots in a primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election, regardless of party. In highly gerrymandered districts, that could mean two Democrats or two Republicans on the November ballot.
The proposition was placed on the ballot in a budget deal last year between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-state Sen. Abel Maldonado, who said he would support higher taxes if the Legislature agreed to place the open-primary measure before voters. He has said it will benefit more moderate candidates such as himself in state legislative and congressional primaries.
Earlier this year, Schwarzenegger appointed Maldonado lieutenant governor, and the former lawmaker is on Tuesday's ballot as a candidate for that job. The two were scheduled to appear together Tuesday morning to promote the measure.
California voters also could opt for a trial run of public financing of campaigns, somewhat ironic in a year of record political spending in the GOP race for governor.
Turnout for the primary is expected to be relatively light, with perhaps a third of registered voters casting ballots. Of the 16.9 million Californians registered, 40 percent — or 6.8 million — requested vote-by-mail ballots. As of Monday, 1.8 million of those ballots had been returned.
Interest is expected to be higher among Republicans because of the gubernatorial and Senate contests. Brown and Boxer did not face serious challengers.