Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman is essentially purchasing the Republican gubernatorial nomination from tech exec Steve Poizner -- he's fairly wealthy himself, but she's pouring record amounts of her own money into the race. It's not in her interest to take positions on issues; it's in her interest to give voters a general biographical sketch of who she is. Why give herself all the disadvantages of a heated primary -- forcing herself to the right -- when she could start positioning herself against likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown?
Whitman's operation has been uneven; in order to win, she needs to convince the moderate professional classes in California that she gets politics and is pragmatic. Whitman's relative newness to politics may not serve her well in a race against a seasoned pro like Brown, but her template -- business executive, woman, de-emphasizing more divisive issues -- is how a Republican can win statewide in California.
Obviously, a key demographic in California is Hispanics; there are rumblings that Hispanic groups are going to make a push criticizing Whitman's Hispanic hiring practices at eBay, and they've already complained that former Gov. Pete Wilson is her campaign chair. Professional women are Whitman's base, but Brown does well with this group and with minorities -- he has a has long track record.
Regardless of how Californians view Brown -- uneven, eccentric, "that guy again?" -- he knows his base. So is the economy THAT bad that an empty slate like Whitman can pour tons of money into race and win? ... or does she really make herself into a moderate in the general election and hope the conservatives are so disgusted with the current state of things that they don't stay home?
The Senate race is trickier to boil down. Barbara Boxer's numbers are much lower than they should be, and if Republicans can avoid the after-effects of an already nasty primary, they're in a real position to make the seat competitive.
The big conspiracy theory in the race is that the Powers That Be don't want Whitman to have to share the ballot with former HP exec Carly Fiorina, which is why Tom Campbell was slotted into the race. Campbell and Whitman could run as a pair, running as pragmatic problem solvers -- a version of the Bob McDonnell model for California. Even State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore would be helpful to Whitman -- he'd make sure the conservative base shows up. Republicans in California need every Republican they can get to vote. Fiorina's having a lot of trouble convincing conservatives that she is trustworthy; DeVore has credibility among conservatives, and Tom Campbell, a former Stanford professor and GOP congressman, is widely known. The primary is June 8.
A wild card: if Congress pursues immigration reform, it could nationalize both races very quickly.