The lesson for aspiring California politicians in Tuesday's Republican Senate primary is likely to be a tough one: Golden State victories don't come cheap.
Republican Tom Campbell once led rival Carly Fiorina by a wide margin. But after a wave of spending by former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Fiorina, Campbell was forced to all but pull the plug on his own campaign last week by withdrawing costly television campaign ads.
Fiorina poured millions of her own money into her campaign and is currently airing two statewide ads, one of them already looking ahead to the general election fight to oust the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Overall, Fiorina has aired five television ads in a state where putting a spot in heavy rotation statewide costs about $2 million.
The latest numbers show Fiorina leading Campbell by more than 20 points. It's a stunning turnaround, given that Campbell was leading by double digits less than a month ago.
Few are willing to predict a sure victory for Fiorina, but it doesn't look good for Campbell.
“I think the fact that he has canceled his advertising a week before the election spells the ultimate doom for Tom Campbell,” said Matt Klink, a GOP strategist based in Los Angeles.
This is Fiorina's first attempt to win political office. She served as a campaign surrogate for the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and is running as a “true fiscal conservative” who also leans right on most social issues, including abortion.
Whitman's bid for governor looks like the winner
While Republican Tom Campbell faces diminishing odds of winning Tuesday's GOP Senate primary in California, Republican Steve Poizner is even more of a long shot in his state party's gubernatorial face-off.
Poizner, the state's insurance commissioner, has been trounced in the polls by former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, who holds a 2-to-1 lead, according to a survey conducted by California-based Field Research Corp.
According to the poll, 51 percent of voters said they would pick Whitman compared to just 25 percent who favored Poizner.
As in the GOP Senate primary, the biggest spender has come out ahead. In this case the figures are astronomical, with Whitman shelling out $81 million and Poizner spending $29 million, according to Field Research.
Poizner has managed to close the gap a little since March, when he trailed by 49 percentage points, but there is little he can do at this point to get ahead by Tuesday, political experts say.
“It's kind of hard to see how Poizner can overcome a nearly two-to-one deficit at this point,” said John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.
The winner will face Democrat Jerry Brown, who served as governor from 1975 to1983 and has the edge on statewide name recognition.
Campbell served five terms in Congress before attempting to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, in 2000. Campbell ran into financial trouble during that campaign as well and was roundly defeated.
“I just think that this shows all along what the greatest concern was about Tom Campbell, which is his inability to raise money,” Klink said. “And if you can't raise money, you can't buy TV ads, and if you can't by TV ads, you can't win statewide elections.”
Political observers say Fiorina has increased her appeal to primary voters by portraying herself as more conservative than Campbell, who supports gay marriage and believes women have a right to elective abortions, and by casting doubt on his Republican credentials. In one Fiorina campaign ad, voters are reminded that Campbell refused to sign the Taxpayers Protection Pledge signed by most GOP candidates and incumbents willing to promise not to raise taxes.
Campbell may have one last shot at victory, however, if he can widely communicate to voters the latest polling information that shows him leading Boxer in a general election matchup by seven points. The poll, conducted by the Los Angeles Times, shows Fiorina lagging six points behind Boxer.
Campbell posted an Internet ad touting those numbers late last week.
“I don't have millions of dollars of personal wealth to use in my U.S. senate campaign,” Campbell says in the ad, “But I do have something neither of my opponents can offer. I will beat Sen. Barbara Boxer and put Republicans back in control of the U.S. Senate.”
Two other candidates in the primary are getting far less recognition in the polls.
Conservative Chuck DeVore, favored by the state's Tea Party activists, is running a distant third in the GOP primary. Blogger Mickey Kaus, a Democrat, is conducting a populist campaign against Boxer but has little money or name recognition and seems mostly to want to tweak Boxer for her positions on illegal immigration and other issues.