It will all come down to math. Former eBay chief executive officer Meg Whitman, the Republican nominee for California governor, cannot beat Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic nominee for governor, in a state where only 31 percent of voters are registered as Republicans.
Brown is clearly the favorite going into the November General Election. But Democratic, Republican and independent analysts agree that this doesn't give Brown any guarantee in a state where voters chew up Democratic gubernatorial candidates who fail to heed voters' concerns, as happened in the disastrous race mounted four years ago by too-liberal Phil Angelides against centrist Arnold Schwarzenegger.
To win, as California Target Book co-publisher Tony Quinn notes, Whitman must get a whopping 60 to 65 percent of the independent voters — those "decline to states" who dislike both parties. She must also attract, despite her strong opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants, 30 to 35 percent of Latinos — by tapping the fiscally conservative small-business owners and moderates who have no love lost for the Democrats.
Black voters in California have made themselves irrelevant by voting for decades as a monolithic bloc behind the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, no matter how bad the candidate. As a result, black voters, more than any other group, are taken for granted and will not play a role this year.
That doesn't mean the reliable voters won't be wooed, or that ethnic pandering and ethnic controversies won't play major roles.
The Republican base for Whitman pencils out at 35 percent to 38 percent of the electorate (registration in the party is 31 percent, but they are more avid voters than Democrats, so their numbers are bigger at the polls). Whether Republicans in November make up just 35 percent, or give Whitman a slightly bigger but very crucial 38 percent, depends on how fired up Whitman can get them, how far they try to push her beyond her conservative-moderate views on immigration (she opposes the Arizona law but also opposes amnesty), and how much the far right fears Brown.
Democrats make up a far larger base, with 44.5 percent of registered voters, and within that demographic is a big, highly liberal Democratic core. That immovable bloc, which voted for the hapless Angelides in 2006 and even for the unprepared Cruz Bustamante before that, makes up 40 percent of California's electorate. Brown can rely on those voters completely.
That leaves about 20 to 25 percent of voters up for grabs, including the most open-minded citizens willing to listen to all sides, as well as the most disgruntled and disgusted residents sick of politics, who hate the two key parties.
As of now, the two candidates are locked in a race for the middle to woo this disparate bunch, and some hints of that were clear at the parties held by the victors on Election Night in Los Angeles.
Brown's camp selected Club Nokia near Staples Center for his venue, an apparent nod to younger voters who don't remember former Governor Jerry Brown, but the tiny crowd that showed up, roughly 250 subdued supporters and spinmeisters, was no match for a Lakers championship run in Boston, which many political journalists watched on TV instead of election returns.
Then there was an awkward moment when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent his handlers to repeatedly urge reporters to tape interviews with the mayor. Few were interested, with one finally asking, "Isn't he just going to say it again in 20 minutes onstage?"
Despite those hiccups, an ebullient Brown finally arrived to a modest cheer, cracking jokes and looking relaxed. He introduced his wife, Anne Gust, saying that trying to keep up with her "has gotten me in the mood" to run hard for governor.
While his supporters in the audience called Whitman "the auction-house woman," Brown never said her name. But he did make clear that he plans to paint her as monied and divisive, saying "we're not scapegoating anybody" not even "the guy who cleans bedpans."
Ten miles away, Whitman's victory party at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City officially began at 8:45 p.m., when the Associated Press named her the Republican nominee by virtue of her win over California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
In her victory speech, Whitman hammered at Brown, calling him the candidate of "glitz, glamour and glibness," while describing herself as the candidate of "guts."
Only once did she reach beyond her conservative base.
"I ask all Californians — Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Asians, African-Americans and Latinos — to all join my campaign," she said.
Mostly, she stuck to red meat. After saying that Brown owes favors to every special-interest power broker in the state, Whitman added a line that was not in her prepared remarks: "The really good news is I don't owe anyone anything," she said, to thunderous applause.