The California Senate race will be decided in Los Angeles County and not in my more liberal neck of the woods, but as someone who has a sort-of-front-seat view, I can try to answer the question of whether the Golden State is in play.
Short answer: yes.
For openers, check the most recent PPIC poll. It has Boxer ahead by five (43–38 percent). That’s striking distance, folks. Moreover, 43 percent is a particularly anemic number for a three-term incumbent who (a) had only token primary opposition (sorry, Mickey Kaus); (b) is running both positive and negative ads day and night; and (c) faces an opponent who is unabashedly conservative (pro-life, pro-drilling, anti-stimulus) in a notoriously deep-blue state.
Add to that the Republicans’ emphasis on a strong ground game in California (registering voters, targeting independents, maxing out GOP turnout) — as opposed to the Democrats, who are struggling at organization (that’s why Bill Clinton was out here last week) — and it’s clear that Boxer-Fiorina could go late into the night.
Besides, if things were hunky-dory in the Golden State, why would President Obama be coming to Los Angeles tomorrow to campaign? He’ll be at USC again — expect another traffic jam.
That said, there is a problem for Carly Fiorina, and it’s her weaker-than-expected connection with California women. That same PPIC poll gave her only 32 percent of the women’s vote, the same as GOP gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman. For Fiorina, it’s a 16-point gender gap, which figures to an 8 point deficit in the total vote.
That’s curious, since Fiorina in her stump speech talks about the tough climb from receptionist to CEO and her very personal feelings about the “life” issue (her husband’s mother was tempted to abort her son; unable to have children herself, Fiorina believes strongly in adoption). It makes for a very moving connection — the antithesis of the all-business, mostly centrist Whitman campaign. Plus, it’s Pink October and Fiorina is a recent breast-cancer survivor.
One final note on California Senate history — and, unfortunately, it’s a sour note. The 1994 Republican “wave” election resulted in a pickup of eight Senate seats for the GOP, yet Dianne Feinstein won that year. In 1980, the same year the GOP gained twelve Senate seats (and a California Republican won the presidency, for cryin’ out loud), Alan Cranston defeated Prop 13 co-author Paul Gann.
— Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.