WASHINGTON — Judith Brown, a 76-year-old Republican from Napa, says it'd be great if her party made history next month by nominating two women for California's highest elected offices.
But she won't be part of the effort.
Brown, a GOPer for more than 40 years, said the idea of voting for a woman is appealing but will have to wait until the general election. In the primary, she's backing Senate candidate Chuck DeVore over Carly Fiorina because she says he's a little more conservative, and she likes gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner over Meg Whitman because she says he'd get things done a little faster than Whitman.
Brown doesn't figure she'll be depriving the women of their party's nomination anyway. "I'm just one vote, and I always vote, but they aren't going to win or lose by one vote," she said.
As their races head for the finish line, Whitman and Fiorina are both having a tough time closing the deal with likely women voters, who are still undecided in large numbers and appear poised to determine the outcome of both contests.
"I think that's really true. ... Women have been really late deciders in the governor's race and the Senate race and will disproportionately be a factor in what are now two very close races," said Mark Baldassare, president and chief executive officer of the Public Policy Institute of California.
Whitman and Fiorina both fare better among male voters than they do with women, according to a statewide survey released last week by the PPIC.
But overall, 44 percent of all likely women voters have yet to decide who they'll back in the Senate race, compared with 34 percent in the race for governor.
"I'm completely undecided," said Kyp Hughes, 34, a stay-at-home mom from Camp Pendleton.
Hughes said she doesn't care that women are running and that she'll be voting for a man for the top slots.
"It does not matter to me at all," Hughes said. "I prefer a gentleman anyway. My husband's in the Marine Corps. I think that in some things they're a lot stronger and more sound. It's personal preference — unless it was Sarah Palin. I'd be for her no matter what. But right now, I think I'd choose a guy over a female."
Baldassare said it's not clear why more women are undecided than men, but he and others speculated because they're being more deliberative with relatively new candidates.
"I think it's the case that women are more deliberative — that's not based on social science so much as 21 years of marriage," said Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.
Some women who participated in the poll offered other theories: Women don't have as much time to follow the campaigns, or they're turned off by the negative tone of the campaigns and are trying to ignore them.
Jacqueline Rose, 74, of Julian, said she'll begin paying more attention as Election Day nears. She's still undecided who to back for senator.
"I have nothing against voting for a woman," she said. "We tend to want to support women, but right now the bashing that's going on between the two top runners tends to make women pull away rather than pay attention."
Barbra Scherer, 36, of Victorville, said most women are "a little bit too busy to be able to pay attention to what's going on right now." She recently quit her job and began following the races. "I have time to read the blogs and to look at information, where I didn't before."
Scherer said she's leaning toward voting for DeVore because he's more conservative, and she said the gender of a candidate does not sway her. She said what's most important in a candidate are values, integrity and morals.
"Being a woman has nothing to do with it," Scherer said. "Just because a woman's on the ticket doesn't mean that's who we're going to vote for. It's kind of like stereotyping Republicans as voting for the white middle-aged man."
Baldassare said there likely would be fewer undecided voters in a Democratic primary, with well-known names such as Sens. Dianne Feinstein or Boxer on the ballot.
"On the Republican side, there's a little bit more novelty, a little bit more uncertainty," Baldassare said. "These are relatively new candidates, and people are getting to know them. What this suggests is that both Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina — as well as the other candidates — will have to work extra hard to get the support of women in the GOP primary."
In a hypothetical matchup with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, Whitman loses but does better with male voters than does Brown, while Brown wins more backing from women than does Whitman.
And in a Senate matchup with Democrat Boxer, Fiorina gets trounced by women, who back the incumbent by a 53 percent to 34 percent margin.
Fiorina's top challenger, former Rep. Tom Campbell, also does better than Fiorina among women in a matchup with Boxer.
With only 17 days remaining in the race, Fiorina and Campbell are in a dead heat, according to the poll, with Fiorina at 25 percent and Campbell at 23 percent, while DeVore has 16 percent. And in the governor's race, Whitman leads Poizner 38 percent to 29 percent.
Both the Fiorina and Whitman campaigns said they'll step up their efforts to win support from women in the final days.
"The polls will go up and the polls will go down," said Tucker Bounds, Whitman's spokesman. But he said the campaign will attract more women voters by having its coalition of thousands of female voters get more involved in get-out-the-vote efforts and talking to friends and neighbors. "It's a coalition that we'll be engaging even more aggressively."
Amy Thoma, Fiorina's spokeswoman, predicted that more women will rally behind Fiorina as more of them hear details of "how she's lived the American dream," starting out as a receptionist and climbing to become the first and only woman to lead a Fortune 20 company.
"They'll realize that she's the conservative in this race who can beat Boxer," Thoma said.
No woman has ever won the Republican nomination for Senate or governor in California, according to a spokesman for the state GOP Party. Republican Cathie Wright, nominated to be her party's lieutenant governor in 1994, is the top-ranked nominee in state GOP history.
But this year, along with Whitman and Fiorina in the top slots, the Republican Party is fielding female candidates for state treasurer and secretary of state.