If California is the bellwether state, then the rest of the nation can expect to see an army of Republican, ex-CEO women taking politics by storm.
Former eBay head Meg Whitman won the state’s GOP gubernatorial nod, while ex-Hewlett Packard chief Carly Fiorina captured the party’s nomination for Senate in their June 8 “Super Tuesday” primaries. Neither had ever run for political office before, but both learned quickly, sinking millions of dollars of their own fortunes into their races and defeating their opponents by double digits.
“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,” Mrs. Whitman said after her primary win over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
Their victories set the table for two classic election matchups in November. Former Gov. Jerry Brown, who will face Mrs. Whitman, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, seeking her fourth term against Mrs. Fiorina, are venerable Democratic pols who couldn’t be more different from their Republican rivals.
The races pit the private sector against the public sector; newcomers versus household names; conservatives against liberals; outsiders against insiders; and CEOs versus the AFL-CIO.
“You can always expect something different from California, and this year is no exception,” said Republican political strategist Reed Galen.
He said Californians are ready to hear from some new voices, given the state’s catastrophic budget crisis and economic downturn.
“There used to be anger and resignation. Now there’s anger, resignation, and people are just flabbergasted,” said Mr. Galen. “So the fact that you have outsiders coming in isn’t surprising. There’s a fairly stout anti-establishment feeling not just in California, but nationwide.”
The anti-establishment mood was prevalent well beyond California. In Nevada, former state legislator Sharron Angle surged to victory at the last minute over two better-known candidates, Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian.
Mrs. Angle, who was helped by endorsements by the Tea Party Express and Club for Growth, faces Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November. The race is promising to be close: a poll taken shortly before the June 8 primary found Mrs. Angle leading by 1.7 percentage points, or within the margin of error.
South Carolina state Rep. Nikki Haley managed to overcome allegations of infidelity and an ethnic slur to lead a four-candidate field in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Another “tea party” pick, Mrs. Haley received 49 percent of the vote, but by coming in short of 50 percent, she must face U.S. Rep. J. Gresham Barrett, who earned 22 percent of the vote, in a runoff.
Mrs. Haley, an Indian Sikh by birth who has since converted to Christianity, was called a “raghead” by one state legislator. Two men with ties to her political opponents said she had affairs with them, although were unable to offer any proof. Instead of hurting her campaign, however, the nastiness backfired, boosting her campaign with a surge of voter sympathy.
“We pushed against the power, we pushed against the money, and boy, did they push back,” Mrs. Haley said after her victory.
The winner of the GOP runoff is expected to coast to victory in November, given the state’s heavily Republican voter registration. If she wins, Mrs. Haley would become the state’s first female governor.
Elsewhere, the established candidates fared better. In Montana, Rep. Denny Rehberg easily beat back a challenge from a tea party candidate, Mark French, capturing nearly 75 percent of the Republican primary vote.