CALIFORNIA -- May 21, 2010 at 6:14 PM ET
California Senate Race: Poll Shows Boxer Pulling Ahead of GOP Rivals
With Republicans and the tea partiers getting most of the headlines these days, it's a little surprising that liberal Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California has opened up a small but significant lead over all the Republicans running against her, according to one statewide poll.
Those Republicans are Carly Fiorna, the former head of Hewlett Packard; Tom Campbell, an ex-congressman who was Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget director; and Chuck DeVore, a conservative congressman from Southern California.
According to the latest poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, Fiornia at 25 percent leads Campbell by 2 percent, essentially a dead heat. The lesser-known DeVore trails with 16 percent, which is double what he was getting in March. He is expecting a surge of conservative support.
But with much less money than the others and little name recognition, DeVore has a lot of ground to make up before the June primary election. He has no intention of getting out of the race, which backers of Fiorina would love to see since they believe his followers would switch to her.
But Boxer beats any one of them in the new poll with 46 percent. Campbell comes the closest with 40 percent in the hypothetical matchup. Those numbers are sweet for the incumbent senator, who was essentially even with Campbell and Fiorina just a month ago.
California is a Democratic state. Boxer has served two terms. And while she is known as one of the Senate's most liberal members, she is not known as one of the highest-profile senators. Half of all potential voters approve of the way she handles her job. And 77 percent of Democrats approve. Boxer faces no significant opposition in the June primary, and so she's been under the radar this spring while her GOP opponents have been on the air blasting each other (and occasionally her).
An outspoken environmentalist, Boxer might have gotten a boost from the oil leak disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
But while the primary is drawing near, the general election is more than five months away, and a lot can happen between now and then. Boxer will become the target of the winner of the Republican primary. She's faced tough elections before, and has always beaten conservative Republicans. President Obama's popularity is questionable, and that could hurt Boxer. Besides, she hasn't faced a moderate on social issues like Tom Campbell, who endorses a woman's right to an abortion among other issues.
If Boxer has to face a more conservative Republican, Fiorina or DeVore, she still could be in trouble. This may be a conservative year nationwide, even in the blue state of California. So far, Boxer is holding her own -- attracting a large number of independent voters, who may be turned off by the Republican battle.
So the general election for California senator ought to be a doozy -- no matter who wins the GOP primary.