Commentary Magazine


Competitive California

Even in California, Republicans are surging in the polls. A new Public Policy Institute of California survey shows Meg Whitman crushing her primary opponent in the gubernatorial race and now leading Democratic candidate Jerry Brown by a 44 to 39 percent margin. The surprise is in the Senate race, where Carly Fiorina has shot up in the polls and now edges out Tom Campbell: “The Republican primary race for U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat has tightened since January, when Tom Campbell led both Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore among Republican likely voters (27% Campbell, 16% Fiorina, 8% DeVore). Today, Campbell and Fiorina are in a close race (24% Fiorina, 23% Campbell), and DeVore’s level of support is unchanged (8%).” In short, Fiorina is up eight and Campbell down four since the poll’s January survey. And in the general election matchup, Barbara Boxer is in a one-point race with both Campbell and Fiorina.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Campbell’s lead has vanished. Part of that advantage was name recognition, since  Campbell has been a familiar figure in California politics for over a decade. But Fiorina has had a good run — wacky, high-profile ads, a strong showing at the California Republican convention, and pounding away at Campbell’s tax record. And then there is the Israel issue. Given the focus over the past two weeks on the president’s Israel-bashing, pro-Israel voters have every reason to be concerned that Campbell seems to be rather sympathetic to the Obami approach to Israel. (Campbell previously voted against resolutions confirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and voiced support for it as the capital of both a Jewish and a Palestinian state.)

But the real shocker here is Boxer’s vulnerability. This is not the only poll to show that the race is in a virtual dead heat. It is perhaps indicative of a strong anti-incumbent sentiment that is sweeping the country. The pollsters tell us:

[T]he state legislature’s approval rating among likely voters has sunk to single digits—9 percent. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s record-low approval rating of 25 percent hovers near Governor Gray Davis’ lowest level before recall (21% in June 2003). Likely voters give their own state legislators a 27-percent rating, close to the record-low 25 percent last December. Congress gets an approval rating of 14 percent—a 15-point drop since January (29%)—from likely voters in the survey, which was taken during the heated debate about health care reform. Asked to rate the performance of their own representative in the U.S. House, likely voters are more favorable: 44 percent approve. But this is a record low. President Obama fares better, but his approval rating has also dipped to a new low of 52 percent.

Well, if Massachusetts can supply a wake-up call to Washington — which was promptly ignored — so can California. And soon, I suspect, we’ll see pollsters move the Senate race from “leans Democratic” to “toss up.” What’s next — Wisconsin? Uh, yup.