By William M. Welch, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES - California voters hoping for a little restraint haven't seen much in the campaigns leading up to Tuesday's primary elections.
The race for the Republican nomination to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a battle of free-spending billionaires who have saturated TV airwaves with ads blasting each other as liberals, while promising to get tough on illegal immigration and cut state spending.
Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, ranked one of the world's wealthiest women by Forbes magazine, has poured more than $71 million of her own money into her campaign as of May 25, state records show.
In contrast with her calls for state austerity and eliminating 40,000 state jobs, Whitman has spared few expenses, paying political consultant Mike Murphy $90,000 a month and hiring private jets. One Democratic-leaning group, the California Nurses Association, declared Whitman the candidate for "Queen of California" and sent an actress in regal garb to her campaign stops.
Whitman, a political novice, has a 51%-25% lead over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the latest independent Field Poll. A software tycoon who sold his company for $1 billion, Poizner has spent almost $25 million of his own money.
One flash point: the Arizona immigration law, which allows police officers enforcing another law to question a person's immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally. Poizner supports the law, while Whitman has emphasized the need for tighter border security and a crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
The nearly $90 million total that Whitman has raised from donors and her own bank account is four times what previous statewide candidates have spent in their entire campaigns, says Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University-Sacramento. "We've had our history of very expensive, personal-wealth-driven races, but nothing like this," O'Connor says.
The winner will face Democrat Jerry Brown, who has token opposition in his party's primary. Brown, who left the governor's job after two terms in 1983, is the state attorney general. He has raised close to $30 million, state records show.
The governor's race has overshadowed a heated primary for the GOP Senate nomination to take on veteran Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has far outspent two rivals: moderate Tom Campbell, a former representative for Silicon Valley, and Chuck DeVore, a state legislator running as the most conservative.
Boxer faces underfunded competitors such as liberal blogger Mickey Kaus. She has raised more than $16 million, according to federal records, including more than $1 million from two fundraising visits by President Obama.
An independent Field Poll released Saturday showed Fiorina moving into a strong lead, 37% to Campbell's 22% among likely GOP primary voters. Campbell, who has limited funding, recently stopped airing television ads.
Recent surveys show both Whitman and Fiorina narrowly trailing in the general election. A recent poll by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times found Brown leading Whitman 44%-38%, and with a bigger lead if Poizner is the nominee. In the Senate race, the poll found Boxer leading Fiorina by a similar 44%-38% ratio.
Registration of GOP voters in the state has declined to less than 31%, while Democratic registration has risen to 44.5%, according to the secretary of State's office. Voters who decline to state a party have risen to 20%.
Allan Hoffenblum, a GOP political consultant, said the growth of Latino voters has become a problem for GOP candidates. He said to have a chance of winning statewide, GOP candidates need to get one-third of the Latino vote and the party's hard line has made it harder to attract them. "Whoever wins, say Meg and Carly, their very first job is, 'How can I get that middle-class Latino vote,' " he said.