The California campaigns for governor and senator can look like one big unwieldy whole, moving inexorably toward November, cluttering television screens and radio airwaves and mailboxes statewide. Close up, they are four campaigns distinct in style and personality. There is Republican Meg Whitman's campaign for governor, where nothing is accidental. There is Democrat Jerry Brown's challenge, reveling in its just-out-of-bed disorganization. There is Barbara Boxer's campaign, that of a Democratic senator staring down her toughest challenge in an anti-incumbent year. And there is Carly Fiorina's campaign, with its first-time candidate trying to replicate other come-from-behind Republican victories this rambunctious year.
At a dusty manufacturing plant in San Diego, the stage was set for the former EBay chief. Employees wearing pale blue shirts reading "Made in California" were seated. Studio-quality lighting had been trucked in and turned on. The candidate's campaign photographer, who was previously the White House photographer for George W. Bush, was at the ready. Whitman bounded onstage as the guitar from Van Halen's "Right Now" reached a crescendo. She said the firm, Solar Gard Window Films, represented both California's promise and what's at stake if state government remains dysfunctional. The cutting-edge company had rebuffed — so far — lucrative offers to move out of state.
"I am convinced we can make the Golden State golden again," Whitman said. "I will make sure California is the very best place to start and grow a business, where we're not going to lose another job to a neighboring state."
Whitman frequently holds events at businesses that have flourished in California but that she claims are threatened by the state's corporate tax and regulatory burdens.
"My No. 1 priority is to make California more competitive," she said. "So what we're going to do is we're going to cut taxes to get employers hiring here and feel comfortable staying in California."
Her lavishly produced campaign rallies have the feel of extended infomercials. They take place in front of invitation-only audiences; the lighting and sound are impeccable; the candidate is bolstered by a cadre of staff. In San Diego, Whitman was flanked by three large banners that read "Jobs Are on the Way." They were printed in the same shade as the T-shirts worn by the employees.
Whitman's message has not wavered since she won the primary: She is a businesswoman and political outsider who can fix Sacramento, and Democratic rival Brown is a relic owned by labor unions.
"I am not career politician," Whitman said. "Jerry Brown was governor 35 years ago. If he wins this election, which I will work very hard to make sure doesn't happen, he will be the youngest governor and the oldest governor in California. This is his 14th election; that does not include primaries. He has run for just about every office in this state and it has been a lifetime in politics and a legacy of failure."
Jerry Brown walked briskly to his waiting car, chased by a pack of reporters after a campaign event at Laney College in Oakland. The Democrat, barely visible in recent months as Whitman pummeled him with advertising, said he was energized for their impending battle.
"I've been ready all of my life," Brown said. "In fact, I've been preparing myself just for this, and I think it's going to be quite successful. At least I hope it will."
The event, like all of Brown's, was low-frills and low-cost — his campaign toted a lectern, a handful of signs and a small sound system and placed them in front of the college gym. The candidate made his pitch before a throng of reporters and dozens of passing students.
Over the summer, Brown walked two paths: quietly rallying the Democratic faithful and occasionally promoting his green-jobs plans, a way to remind voters of his previous two terms as governor while focusing on his most specific policy proposal in this year's contest. But now he was trying to pick up speed.
At Laney, Latino politicians and community leaders extolled Brown's history of support and decried what they saw as Whitman's divisive tactics. Brown, in a trademark stream-of-consciousness address, broadened the scope of the message. He said that he alone could return the state to its former glory.
"I'm glad that I had the opportunity to be mayor of Oakland, to walk these streets all over, from east to west. I'm also glad I've had the experience of being governor. I've worked with 120 legislators, I know the frustration," he said. "So at this point, I've got the energy, I've got the enthusiasm, and I've got the will to transform this breakdown into a breakthrough.
"We just have to pull together and to get it done, and this November that's exactly what I hope the people of California will vote for," he said. "Real change, not bought change, not marketing propaganda, but real change for the people of California, thinking together as a family, Californians first."