While Whitman and Poizner bid for conservative support on Tuesday, "the makeup of the electorate changes dramatically when you go from a GOP primary to the general election in California," said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. He said immigration is "an issue that in the fall election could potentially alienate not just Latino voters but independent voters who hold more moderate views on this topic."
In the fall, the Republican nominee will face Democrat Jerry Brown, the state's Attorney General, who served as governor from 1975 to 1983.
Funding could be a challenge for Brown. The GOP primary has seen massive levels of spending, with Whitman spending over $60 million of her own money and $80 million overall. The Poizner campaign has added another $30 million in spending, while Brown has spent minimal amounts and raised about $20 million for the general election. With Whitman pledging to spend up to $150 million of her own money in the general election, Brown has sought to improve his fundraising.
Democrats are hopeful that immigration's role in the GOP primary creates an opportunity for Brown. "My suspicion is that immigration will help Republicans in the short-term -- the next couple of months -- but not in the long-term, and I put November in the long term," said Nathan Daschle, the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.
Voters will also nominate candidates for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. In the Republican race, ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina leads former Rep. Tom Campbell and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. All three candidates have expressed support for the Arizona legislation, incurring the same risks as Whitman and Poizner.
On ABC News' "Top Line" Fiorina said, "I support the Arizona law. The people of Arizona did what they felt they had to do, absent the federal government's decision to do its job." Fiorina, the frontrunner, has focused her campaign on a message of using her corporate expertise to bring jobs to California. However, she was criticized during the 2008 Presidential campaign, in which she served as an advisor to John McCain, for her multi-million dollar "golden parachute" severance package from HP.
She received a somewhat unexpected boost from the endorsement of Sarah Palin. Many had expected Palin to back DeVore, who has been characterized as a Tea Party favorite. Palin, however, said in her endorsement that "Carly is the Commonsense Conservative that California needs and our country could sure use in these trying times."
Campbell began the election season as a candidate for governor, but Switched to the Senate race in part because of Whitman's willingness to spend her wealth. Fiorina has also spent heavily, though, attacking Campbell in advertisements -- including a now-infamous web video that came to be known as "demon sheep". Campbell has struggled to keep pace, temporarily withdrawing television advertising last week. A libertarian on most social issues, Campbell has focused his rhetoric on his electability in the final days of the campaign.
Incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer has begun to prepare for the general election battle. She has been targeted by national Republicans as a particularly important target for the fall.