Though I have been skeptical that the GOP can make Barbara Boxer break much of a sweat, Carly Fiorina’s decision to challenge Boxer combined with a July Rasmussen poll that showed the incumbent leading by only 4% gave Republicans hope they could score a pick-up in this race. Yet, new developments have strengthened the hands of those who think there isn’t much to see here.
1. A new Rasmussen poll
No other pollster has found results like Rasmussen’s July numbers. Earlier, the Field Poll and PPIC had found Boxer enjoying a solid approval rating and crushing both Fiorina and Arnold Schwarzenegger; later, Research 2000 contradicted Rasmussen, showing Boxer ahead of Fiorina by 19%. Unlike in other contests, where Rasmussen’s numbers might look more favorable to the GOP than those of other pollsters but only marginally so, Rasmussen was here the only one to show Boxer in any way endangered.
They just released a new poll. Boxer has a good favorability rating - 51% to 42% - especially when compared to the mediocre numbers of Fiorina (32-35) and Chuck DeVore (31-37). Against Fiorina, she leads 49% to 39%; against DeVore, 46% to 37%. Sure, these numbers still suggest Boxer is vulnerable but the bottom line is that the one pollster that has ever found her not enjoying a dominating lead - the one pollster who sparked the narrative of an endangered Boxer - now finds her comfortably ahead.
2. Fiorina reportedly will not self-fund
One major reason Fiorina’s candidacy was so appealing to the NRSC was her ability to self-fund her candidacy. California is too expensive a state for national Republicans to invest any money - at least not under they get convincing proof that their effort will be worthwhile. With Boxer the clear favorite to win, Republican candidates won’t find easy fundraising; so how can they introduce themselves to voters if they don’t have a personal bank account to rely on? Also, Boxer looks solid enough that her numbers won’t sink unless she faces a barrage of ads; so can the GOP hope to beat her unless it recruits a wealthy candidate?
The GOP’s two highest-profile gubernatorial candidates - Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner - look certain to spend millions of their own money in order to win next year, and Fiorina was considered likely to follow their path. Not so, according to new reports that seem confirmed by NRSC officials; she’ll make use of some personal money, but nowhere near the extent Whitman and Poizner will.
As a veteran of the McCain campaign and as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina should have the national and business networks to be finally competitive; but I still have trouble seeing her building the financial strength she’d need just to endanger Boxer - let compete with her. And now that it looks like the NRSC will have plenty of better opportunities across the county (CO, CT, NV, AR, IL and perhaps DE), it looks all the more likely California will once again fall by the wayside. Financial constraints makes it hardly viable to envision a 7th offensive.
3. Primary troubles
As long as the NRSC seemed committed to making California competitive and as long as we thought Fiorina would just write herself as many checks as she needed, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore looked unlikely to cause much drama in the GOP primary: The financial disparity alone made him the underdog against Fiorina.
But times are changing: The NRSC is paying attention to other states, finances could be more balanced, Fiorina is losing use of the electability argument (Rasmussen has her falling behind, not to mention that DeVore actually polls better than her in that survey). Worst still for her prospects: California looks like it could become a new front in the war some conservatives are waging against the NRSC. Last week, Red State hit Fiorina just as it has been criticizing Ayotte and Crist, other Republicans for whom the NRSC has clearly signaled its preference.
California might be staunchly blue, but conservatives dominate the GOP primary and that has led the party to repeatedly nominate candidates that have been too far to the right - for instance in the 2002 gubernatorial race, when Bill Simon beat former LA Mayor Richard Riordan. The phenomenon could be accentuated if state Republicans decide to make their nomination process a closed primary, as is being discussed.
In short: The ingredients are there for Fiorina to experience serious primary troubles against DeVore. If it’s hard to see Boxer that vulnerable against Fiorina, she’ll be all the more favored against DeVore, whose conservative politics should be as odd a fit for California as those of most Republicans who’ve been nominated statewide in the past decade. (It’s no coincidence that their one victor, Schwarzenegger, did not have to go through a Republican primary.)
More trouble for state GOP: Whitman didn’t register to vote for nearly 30 years
I am not sure how much candidates are ever hurt by revelations about their shaky voting history, but Meg Whitman’s commitment to the electoral process is weak to a truly stunning degree. The Sacramento Bee launched an extensive investigation across the many states Whitman has lived in. Their finding: Whitman, who turned 18 in 1974, did not register to vote until 2002!
Even after her registration, she skipped many elections - including the 2003 recall vote and the 2005 special election called by Schwarzenegger. She did not start voting regularly until 2008, when she co-chaired Mitt Romney’s presidential bid and started to prepare her own gubernatorial campaign.