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“She is for more taxes. She is for more spending. And she is also for big government and elite, extremist environmental groups,” Mrs. Fiorina said.

In embracing her conservative credentials, Mrs. Fiorina is running against the tide of the state’s recent political history. It’s been years since a true conservative won a Senate or gubernatorial race in California, although none of the past contenders had Mrs. Fiorina’s considerable wealth.

“Unlike Boxer’s past opponents, who were basically penniless, [Mrs. Fiorina] is going to have the money to get her message across,” Mr. Hoffenblum said.

Mrs. Boxer, meanwhile, faces an uphill battle against the anti-incumbent mood sweeping the nation. Fully 50 percent of those polled in the Rasmussen survey reported unfavorable views of Mrs. Boxer, while 48 percent said they held favorable views of the senator.

Even though they’re far outnumbered by Democrats, California Republicans appear to be far more engaged this election season. Political forecasters say voter turnout will be key in races across the country.

Barbara’s the kind of street fighter who appeals to some people but can also turn some people off,” said Mr. Dash. “The key to this election for Boxer is motivating Democrats to come out and vote. Right now, Republicans are very energized because they smell blood. They smell victory.”