LOS ANGELES -- California Republicans picked former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on Tuesday to lead their party in its quest this fall to maintain control of the state's highest office to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Fiorina defeated former congressman Tom Campbell and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore to earn a shot at challenging the vulnerable Boxer in November.
Whitman, in seeking the party's nomination for governor, tapped her personal fortune to beat state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, advancing to face a Democratic icon, former two-term Gov. Jerry Brown.
"I am battle-tested now," Whitman said in her victory speech. "And I'm ready to give Jerry Brown the toughest election of his career."
The victories mark the first time the California Republican Party has put two women at the top of its ticket, a breakthrough that is expected to set off an election season of big-money campaigns and high drama in the nation's most populous state, pitting two deep-pocketed Silicon Valley business stars against stalwarts of the Democratic Party establishment.
Whitman, 53, worked on the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and John McCain. She has spent much of the primary in tightly scripted appearances and was criticized early on for avoiding detailed questions from political reporters. On Tuesday, Brown took a swipe at Whitman's reputation for controlling her message.
"I'm looking forward to a campaign where people get to see the candidates, not just the commercials," he said.
The opponent Whitman beat Tuesday, Poizner, is a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur who spent $25 million of his money on his race but paled in comparison to Whitman, who spent $68 million of her billion dollar-plus fortune.
The heated battle with Poizner to win over conservative GOP primary voters forced Whitman to move to the right on issues such as abortion and illegal immigration, moves that could hurt her against Brown in November.
Democrats and moderate independents comprise two-thirds of the electorate in California. Without a serious primary challenger, Brown has positioned himself as a moderate, pledging not to raise taxes and to make the kind of spending cuts that Whitman also campaigned on.
The gubernatorial race promises to be the most expensive in state history.
Whitman's primary race cost $81, far outpacing any previous primary contest in California. She had previously said she would spend $150 million in all on her gubernatorial bid, but has declined in recent weeks to say whether that number is now higher.
Brown will not be able to match Whitman's millions -- he has $20 million in the bank so far -- but is relying on Democratically aligned independent groups to fund an opposition campaign. Many of those groups are supported by public employee unions who bristle at Whitman's cost-cutting goals for state government. She has pledged to eliminate 40,000 state government jobs.
The U.S. Senate race also promises to be a high-dollar affair. Fiorina had spent $6.7 million by late May, while Boxer has $9.7 million cash on hand.
The seat is a top target for Republicans, so both candidates are likely to attract millions of dollars from outside California. Boxer is seeking a fourth term amid an anti-incumbent mood and has acknowledged facing a difficult race.
Like Whitman, Fiorina, 55, is a political novice who also appeared on the national stage in the 2008 presidential contest, as an economics adviser to McCain.
Boxer is a top target of Republicans this year, but already has come out swinging against Fiorina, calling her out of step with mainstream California voters.
During the primary, Fiorina appealed to conservative voters with her views on abortion, guns and gay marriage, and touting an endorsement from former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. She also said she wanted to repeal national health care reform, even though polls show a majority of Californians support it.
"Carly Fiorina may have prevailed in the Republican primary but not before adopting policies that define her as a right-winger out of touch with California's mainstream electorate," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez.
"Fiorina is now against a woman's right to choose, supports the Arizona immigration law, wants to repeal health care and supports allowing people on the 'no-fly' list to buy guns. ... Despite being fired after less than six years on the job, she managed to rake in more than $189 million in compensation. This is a resume chock full of greed and failure," he said in a written statement.