Reporting from San Diego — Framing their arguments for the general election, the two top-ticket Republicans said their real-world experience would make them more effective advocates for Californians than the career politicians they face in November. Democratic rivals Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer have spent a "lifetime" in elected office and lost touch with the struggles of working families, according to U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina and gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman.
Striking populist themes in a blistering attack on Boxer, Fiorina said her Democratic rival has become corrupted by power and has hastened the state's decline.
"I've crossed every region of California and I have found islands of despair," the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive told hundreds of delegates Saturday at the state Republican convention in San Diego. "In our beautiful state, there is a steady, grinding injustice where the failed policies of Washington's ruling class have smothered hopes in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people — losing jobs, losing homes, destroying businesses, and worse ... sapping the life and the strength and the dreams out of working families in every corner and every county."
The two candidates were keynote speakers at the state party's semiannual gathering, and though they never crossed paths at the convention, they raised similar themes: the economy, accountability in government and failings of their Democratic rivals.
But behind the scenes, they diverged on whether the state Republican Party should take a stand supporting the controversial Arizona immigration law, with Fiorina backing such a measure and Whitman trying to quash a floor vote. It was killed in committee, though conservative activists hope to force a floor vote Sunday.
The varying reception they received — congenial and polite for Whitman, full-throated and passionate for Fiorina — underscored the different paths they have taken since winning their party's nomination in June.
Whitman has tested the patience of conservatives by edging toward moderate positions on such divisive issues as immigration and the proposed rollback of the state's global warming law. Though she made no mention of these topics during her Friday night speech, delegates were buzzing about her shifting tones throughout the weekend.
Fiorina, by contrast, has not wavered from the strong conservative stances she took in the primary, including support for the Arizona law and for repealing the federal healthcare bill.
"I love Carly's tenacity," said Sandra Needs, 62, of Alhambra. "It's kind of hard to figure out what Meg's position is on a day-to-day basis. She keeps going back and forth." But ultimately, Needs said, Whitman's stance doesn't matter "as long as she keeps writing those checks."
On Saturday, Fiorina fired up the party faithful by criticizing Boxer's "left-wing ideology" and promising to end her rival's "28-year-long reign." Fiorina's relentless efforts to boost turnout among the most loyal Republicans — and Whitman's overtures toward moderate voters — have been reflected in recent polling. In a July survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, Fiorina showed greater strength than Whitman among Republican voters, while Whitman had more support from Democrats and Californians who described themselves as liberal.
Mark Baldassare, who heads the institute, said the different strategies employed by the campaigns illustrate the candidates' differing needs and campaign finances. Whitman is a billionaire who has spent $104 million of her own wealth on her campaign. Fiorina, though a multimillionaire, has struggled to catch up with Boxer's fundraising.
"They're in different places," he said. "Meg Whitman has the resources to run her own campaign the way she needs to, and I think Carly Fiorina is a candidate who needs to become part of the … national Republican Party's efforts to win seats in Congress this year."
Both candidates are trying to broaden their appeal to swing voters by emphasizing their outsider credentials. Whitman, the former EBay chief executive, vowed to upgrade the state's technology: "We are going to find that fraud, waste and abuse … and if you rip off the people of California, we are going to send you to jail," she said.
Fiorina focused on the core theme of her campaign: that government is out of control and out of touch with average Californians. She pledged to stay in the Senate for no more than two terms and said she would support term limits for every member of Congress, suggesting a maximum of 12 years in each house. Such a change would require a constitutional amendment.
Fiorina also said she would work on making proposed laws easier to find and available for public review at least two weeks before they are passed.