California: A Blue State Turning Red?

Seven months out, California Democrats start feeling the election heat

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With the legislative melee of health care reform thankfully behind them, Democrats are finally setting their sights on the 2010 mid-term elections. While pundits are speculating on how the embattled bill will affect their chances in the coming elections, liberals are still riding a wave of post-reform euphoria.

Unfortunately for Democrats, some commentators are predicting a rude awakening in the vein of the Massachusetts special election: California, a traditionally blue state, turned red by little-known Republican newcomers forcing out incumbent Democrats. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post suggests that the highly public battle for Barbara Boxer's seat may be a harbinger of electoral defeats. Are California Democrats in trouble?
  • The Polls Say Yes writes Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, pointing to new poll done by the Public Policy Institute of California suggesting that Democrats are in "considerable jeopardy" in both the governor's race and the Senate contest, despite California's traditional blue hue. For Cillizza, the closeness of the races in a Democratic-leaning state conjure specters of Massachusetts: "Former eBay executive Meg Whitman (R), who has spent $27 million (almost all of it from her own pocket) this year alone, has a 44 percent to 39 percent edge over state Attorney General Jerry Brown...On the Senate side, both former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina and former representative Tom Campbell are running in a dead heat against California Sen. Barbara Boxer. Campbell takes 44 percent to 43 percent for Boxer while the Democratic incumbent is at 44 percent to Fiorina's 43 percent." Hotly contested GOP primaries aren't hurting Republican chances either. "In both the gubernatorial and Senate races, the Republican candidates are likely benefiting in the polls from the press attention being paid to their respective primaries," notes Cillizza. "Neither Brown nor Boxer have an intraparty race to speak of."
  • I Smell Massachusetts  Jennifer Rubin at conservative Commentary picks up on the same PPIC poll as Cillizza. She senses similar political dynamics at work in the Golden State as those that rocked the Bay State in January. "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....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.'"
  • Boxer Is Just Target Practice  Spencer Michels at The Rundown finds little reason to be optimistic about Boxer's chances come November, anticipating that the California Senate race could serve as a template for other congressional battles statewide: "While Boxer has won three Senate races, this time she's in the cross-hairs of the Republican Party and the Tea Party activists, who see her as a symbol of big government and too much spending, far too liberal, they say, for the times. Her popularity ratings have plummeted: from 51 per cent in January to 39 per cent now. Among the Republicans, the big issue is Boxer. Fiorina is running a long, complicated Internet commercial portraying the senator as a blimp, taxing and spending as she floats across the landscape. And the other candidates routinely take shots at her in speeches and interviews."
  • Don't Get Lazy The Fresno Bee's Jim Boren looks to San Joaquin Valley congressional races as a indicator of the post-health care voter ire sweeping California, advising Democrats that their biggest flub, just like in Massachusetts, would be maintaining a false sense of security:
In a normal political year, Democratic Reps. Jim Costa of Fresno and Dennis Cardoza of Merced wouldn’t worry about their re-election chances because they hold solidly Democratic districts. But in a year of political upheaval, Costa and Cardoza must be concerned about how voter anger in the independent San Joaquin Valley will play in the November election. Costa and Cardoza must still be considered heavy favorites for re-election. The gerrymandered seats make it almost impossible for a Republican to win. But it would be foolish for them to take their seats for granted this year. An anti-incumbent fervor sweeping the country should make every member of Congress nervous. After Sunday’s controversial health care vote, Republicans think they have an opportunity to pick up seats held by Democrats. It might be 1994 all over again -- the year the GOP took control of the House and Senate during the Clinton administration.
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