You’re a California Republican and, this being an election year, anxiety is mounting. Your state endures unspeakable economic crises, mostly caused by the union-Democratic axis of Sacramento. Unemployment numbers are higher than the national average, and you’re hearing financial experts declare your deficit-plagued, once-golden state to be in worse shape than—oh the indignity!—Greece.

What to do? You might just be able to keep a Republican governor, never mind that the term of the current one, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is coming to an inglorious end. After all, the Democrats appear poised to nominate Attorney General Jerry Brown. Yes, that Jerry Brown, “Governor Moonbeam” himself, who after three decades wants another shot. You’ve got two exceptional candidates in former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. If they don’t commit mutual destruction before the June 8 primary, you might avert the seventies insanity all over again.

Except that Washington, D.C., now in the hands of the Democratic left, could steer the economy, including California’s pivotal part of it, to grim levels unknown even in the Stagnant Decade. Suddenly, firing the state’s junior senator—which could help deny Vice President Joe Biden a decisive vote in the upper house—looks not only imperative but downright plausible.

In Hollywood’s home state, visuals are everything. Here’s one from a June 2009 congressional hearing: Brigadier General Michael Walsh, answering questions from three-term junior senator Barbara Boxer, politely addresses her as “Ma’am.” At which point a shrewish, hyper-feminist Boxer turns the committee room into an icebox:

Do me a favor. Could you say “senator” instead of “ma’am”? It’s just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title, so I’d appreciate it—yes, thank you.

The video went viral, and even in a state favorably disposed to women’s rights, the Bay Area’s Boxer failed the screen test. California’s voters have lately been holding her approval ratings below 50 percent.

Three GOP challengers now sense that those voters may finally be in a mood to replace this unapologetic tribune of the antiwar, enviro-left, who has spent her last term pursuing a jobs-killing cap and trade scheme.

The first to draw media attention was former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, whose friendship with Senator John McCain throughout the 2008 presidential campaign—and lack of previous political interest—stirred suspicions from conservatives. Before and after her November 3, 2009, declaration of candidacy in an Orange County Register op-ed, Fiorina has devoted herself to allaying those suspicions.

She’s done so, for the most part. And convincingly, as I learned not long ago at a small breakfast gathering in Georgetown. Boxer, she predicted, will try to make the election a referendum on liberal values, with the senator lined up on the progressive side of every issue.

The senator imagines most Californians share her views, a dubious assumption in this recession. Fiorina, by contrast, plans to define the issues as jobs, out of control spending, bigger government, higher taxes, and the thicket of regulations Washington plans to layer on top of already burdensome rules.