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Fiorina and Whitman: California's Republican tag team

by Mytheos Holt, published

The battle for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat, not to mention the position of Governor, is now in full swing. The Republicans held their convention this week in San Diego, at which nominees Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina laid out their vision for the future of California, and (equally important) explained why their opponents are incapable of seeing the right one.

Prior to the convention, Whitman and Fiorina had previously been running in seemingly segregated races, with little to no overlap between the talking points offered by the respective candidates.  However, with the conclusion of the convention, all bets are off. Now, what is emerging are two seemingly diametrically opposed political strategies, each of which carries a complementary value for Fiorina's and Whitman’s campaigns. That is, whereas Fiorina has made the provision of red meat for California’s Republican base into her primary goal (an easy one to fill given the general loathing her opponent is held in by that group), Whitman has made it her goal to attract moderate supporters for her campaign, thus boosting turnout. 

These two strategies, while complementary, have shown tensions within the Republican ticket and within the party that are worth watching as the election continues and tempers flare. Several items especially worth noting come from a recent story in the Los Angeles Times

     “But behind the scenes, they diverged on whether the state Republican Party should take a stand supporting the controversial Arizona immigration law, with Fiorina backing such a measure and Whitman trying to quash a floor vote. It was killed in committee, though conservative activists hope to force a floor vote Sunday. 

     The varying reception they received — congenial and polite for Whitman, full-throated and passionate for Fiorina — underscored the different paths they have taken since winning their party's nomination in June.

     Whitman has tested the patience of conservatives by edging toward moderate positions on such divisive issues as immigration and the proposed rollback of the state's global warming law. Though she made no mention of these topics during her Friday night speech, delegates were buzzing about her shifting tones throughout the weekend. 

     Fiorina, by contrast, has not wavered from the strong conservative stances she took in the primary, including support for the Arizona law and for repealing the federal healthcare bill.” 

This potential schism could have one of several effects. It could lead to a united front in the election whereby the candidates unite over issues of shared concern while using their divergent emphases to boost the other’s turnout; or, it could lead to a badly fractured GOP whereby the turnout of one candidate could nix the chances of the other (in this case, Whitman would cancel out Fiorina by boosting traditionally moderate/Democratic demographics). 

And it is this demographic issue that probably informs the ideological disparity the most. As one commentator put it to the Los Angeles Times, “Unless Republicans , we could put up a sign that says, 'This way to the Whig party.’” If this commentator is correct, then Whitman at least ought to see a jump politically. However, at the point where Fiorina and Whitman are seen as ideological and politically separate, it could be that for one or the other, the path to the Whig Party is the path to defeat.

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