California Republicans reached for history in Tuesday's primary elections, as Meg Whitman claimed the party's nomination for governor and Carly Fiorina won the GOP race for the U.S. Senate, results that gave women the Republican nominations for the two most powerful statewide political offices for the first time.
The two wealthy businesswomen, who powered their first electoral bids with millions of dollars of their own money, swept into election day as the front-runners and rode the momentum of an angry electorate that spurned the appeals of veteran politicians competing against them on the ballot.
Neither one touted her gender overtly on the campaign trail, but Whitman embraced it Tuesday night as she greeted supporters near Universal Studios.
"Career politicians in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., be warned — you now face your worst nightmare; two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done!" she said, after congratulating Fiorina.
Democrats on Tuesday confirmed the obvious, selecting Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown as their nominee to the governor's office he first held in 1975, and Barbara Boxer to seek her fourth term in the U.S. Senate. Both had only nominal competition. Californians on Tuesday also decided a host of statewide measures and local matters, as well as selecting nominees for other state offices.
After dramatic primaries, Tuesday's results broke swiftly: The losers in both races conceded within 75 minutes of the polls' closing.
Whitman was decisively ahead of state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner from the first returns. Poizner had spent $24 million of his own money on the race, but the former EBay chief buried his donation with at least $71 million of her own, a California record.
The results set a November match-up between Brown, 72, a career politician who has been secretary of state, governor and Oakland mayor before his current post, and Whitman, 53, who volunteered in the 2008 presidential campaign but whose previous political involvement before that was so tentative that she rarely voted.
Whitman wasted no time blasting Brown as a has-been.
"Jerry Brown has spent a lifetime in politics and the results have not been good," she said. "Failure seems to follow Jerry Brown everywhere."
Brown returned the favor at his Los Angeles celebration.
"It's not enough for someone rich and restless to look in the mirror one morning and decide, 'Hey, it's time to be governor of California,' " he told a crowd of supporters. He compared Whitman to the state's unpopular Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"We tried that," Brown said. "It didn't work. Puffery, platitudes and promises won't balance our budget, won't fix our schools and won't create any new jobs."
In his brief concession speech, Poizner credited himself with steering Whitman in a more conservative direction, but he declined to endorse her outright.
"If Meg Whitman runs on conservative principles, then she deserves our support," he told several dozen supporters in Irvine. "Our task is to press ahead, fighting for these conservative principles, to ensure that they prevail in the fall."
In the Senate race, Fiorina dropped more than $5 million of her own money into ads that took on her chief opponent, former Congressman Tom Campbell. The third-place finisher, Irvine Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, tried to rally support among the primary's most vocal voters, the "tea party" denizens, but his effort was undercut when Fiorina won the endorsement of the movement's icon, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Fiorina's victory set up a rarity in American politics — a November general election battle between two female nominees of the major parties. It and the Whitman-Brown race instantly became among the most watched races nationally with iconic Democratic veterans as key Republican targets.
Speaking to supporters in Anaheim, Fiorina spent most of her remarks criticizing Boxer. "I believe in lower taxes … so that we the people can best decide to spend and invest our hard-earned dollars," she said. "She believes the government can best decide how to spend your income."
Boxer characterized the former Hewlett Packard chief executive as a "heartless" executive who fired tens of thousands of workers and sent American jobs to other countries while grabbing perks for herself.
"The biggest contrast will be jobs, jobs, jobs — and what she did when she had a chance," Boxer said during a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. "When she had her chance to really help workers, she stepped all over them."
Among the most heated of the Tuesday races was for attorney general. Former Facebook attorney Chris Kelly dropped $12 million into the Democratic race but was trailing San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris; among Republicans, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley defeated former Chapman College Law School dean John Eastman and state Sen. Tom Harman of Huntington Beach.