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GOP candidates’ problem in California? Their party

Capitol Journal

From Sacramento

Democrat Jerry Brown has moved ahead of Republican Meg Whitman in the stretch run for governor, a new poll finds. And it’s not surprising. Whitman is dragging the weight of her party.

In California’s other feature race, for the U.S. Senate, Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer is hanging onto a slight lead over Republican Carly Fiorina.

The Republican Party albatross for a statewide candidate in left-leaning California was on full display in a poll released Wednesday night by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. The survey showed the GOP to be highly unpopular.

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Even among Republican ranks, there’s significant party disenchantment.

But first the race standings:

Brown has opened up an eight-point lead — 44% to 36% — among people likely to vote in the Nov. 2 election, based on the poll conducted Oct. 10 to 17.

Last month, an institute survey found the two candidates to be running virtually even. Since then, Brown has picked up significant support among Democrats, women and, especially, Latinos.

Boxer is running for her political life, leading by five points — 43% to 38% — after holding a seven-point edge in September.

There are many reasons why the GOP candidates are trailing.

Whitman, after nearly 14 months of constant broadcast bombardment, may be overexposed in voters’ living rooms. Viewers may be muting her out.

She’s also not particularly well liked. A Los Angeles Times/USC Poll last month found the voters’ impressions of her to be only 37% favorable, and 47% unfavorable. Voters were evenly divided over Brown.

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Fiorina probably has positioned herself too far to the right for most California voters.

Both Whitman and Fiorina are former corporate CEOs with no government experience. For Whitman, that’s especially acute. Voters have just watched one governor who required training wheels and they aren’t pleased.

The new poll shows that only 29% of voters approve of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s job performance.

But as voters decide on a successor, consider this: The issue that they overwhelmingly regard as the most important is the economy and jobs. Nothing else is close. That has been Whitman’s signature issue.

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And voters believe that Whitman would do a better job than Brown in rebuilding the economy and creating jobs. Yet, she trails the attorney general in the race.

One answer why: That GOP tag is a blemish.

Poll interviewers asked voters for their impressions of the political parties and the “tea party” movement.

For the tea party, disapproval has been increasing. Nearly half the voters now have an unfavorable impression.

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Voters aren’t wild about the Democratic Party either. Impressions of it are 44% favorable, 51% unfavorable.

But for the GOP, the voters’ attitude is 2 to 1 negative: 31% favorable, 62% unfavorable.

These results mirror voter registration in California: 44% Democratic, 31% Republican, 20% decline to state. But the registration reflects each party’s popularity. And, beyond popularity, voter impressions of the parties also illustrate political polarization.

Notably unimpressed with the GOP are Latinos, moderates and college graduates.

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Most striking, only 55% of registered Republicans have a favorable impression of the GOP; 39% look on it unfavorably. By contrast, 75% of Democrats are favorably impressed with their party.

What gives? I asked Mark Baldassare, president and poll director of the policy institute.

“Three factors,” he said. “National leadership, state leadership and positions on issues.”

“To some degree, it’s a holdover from the disappointment around President Bush. It’s about the disappointment people have had about the Republican governor.

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“And it’s about the Republican Party in California often being out in front on issues that aren’t in agreement with where most voters stand. Like abortion and environmental issues.”

But why are so many Republicans themselves upset with the party?

“Just speculation,” Baldassare answers, “but the party certainly had a vigorous and contentious primary in June, and that seems to have left some Republican voters dissatisfied with choices at the top of the ticket.”

Indeed, according to his poll, 58% of Republicans say they’re not satisfied with their choices for governor. Among Democrats, just 40% feel that way.

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I called the California Republican Party spokesman, Brian Seitchik, and got a frank answer.

“A lot of Republicans feel the party has lost its way in recent years,” he said.

“They became Republicans because of their commitment to fiscal discipline. As we get back to our roots, people again will realize we’re the party of lower taxes and less spending, and we’ll see our numbers increase.”

He stayed clear of the names Bush and Schwarzenegger.

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Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican consultant who publishes the California Target Book, which handicaps legislative and congressional races, says the GOP “is still perceived as a white man’s party. And the fastest-growing group of voters is people of color. Every time they hear angry rhetoric about immigration, it’s coming out of Republicans.”

“There might be a Republican landslide nationwide” on Nov. 2, he added. “But it’s going to stop at the Colorado River.”

Patrick Dorinson, a political consultant who has worked for both parties, says “for years the [GOP] has emphasized social issues — gays and abortions. That’s not what most voters want to hear.”

A blogger who calls himself the Cowboy Libertarian, Dorinson added: “There’s an old saying that when you’re riding out ahead of the herd, you might want to look back now and then to make sure the herd is following you. The herd hasn’t been following the Republican Party for some time.”

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Whitman has been trying, but she’s saddled with a bad brand.

george.skelton@latimes.com


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