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In the Shadow of Meg & Steve & Jerry: Update on the California Senate Race

My earlier post today on the new PPIC poll of the California governor’s race didn’t get into the survey’s other major findings of national import, on the U.S. Senate race. And that’s no accident. The vast cost and controversy associated with the Whitman/Poizner battle–not to mention the struggle that the winner will have with Jerry Brown in the general election–have largely overshadowed a Senate campaign that has Republicans hoping they can pull off an unlikely win over Barbara Boxer in a very blue state. But it’s a big race in its own right, and the new PPIC poll shows the GOP primary tightening up into a potential three-way barnburner.

Boxer has certainly looked uncharacteristically vulnerable this year, with job approval ratings in the 40s in most recent polls. And she’s also struggled in head-to-head match-ups with Republican candidates Tom Campbell and Carly Fiorina, being statistically tied with both in March polls from PPIC and Field. Democrats have been particularly worried about Campbell, one of those rare Republican politicians who is both pro-choice and pro-gay-marriage.

Campbell has also led most of the primary polls, with Fiorina running a close second and DeVore–a self-styled hard-core conservative whose been endorsed by Jim DeMint, Tea Party Express, and RedState’s Erick Erickson–well back in third.

But now PPIC shows Fiorina slightly ahead of Campbell–25-23–with DeVore doubling his support from the last PPIC poll and closing in on the front-runners with 16%. The timing of this trend, if it’s accurate, is crucial: Mail-in voting began in California this Monday, and roughly half the primary vote, or even more, could be cast by mail. Moreover, Campbell seems to be struggling financially. Last weekend he announced a major cutback in TV advertising for the rest of the campaign, arguing that the Whitman-Poizner buyout of ad time made Senate ads futile anyway. This mean Fiorina will have the airwaves to herself in the Senate race. Although her self-funding is puny by Whitman-Poizner standards, she has loaned her campaign $3.6 million.

So it appears the former H-P exec is fighting something of a two-front war, seeking to pass Campbell and hold off DeVore. On the latter front, she’s benefitted from recent endorsements by right-to-life groups and by Sarah Palin.

Meanwhile, however, PPIC shows Boxer regaining the lead over all her GOP rivals; she leads Campbell 46-40, Fiorina 48-39, and DeVore 50-39. The poll also gave Boxer her highest approval rating–50%–in any survey this year.

All in all, it looks like a close if overshadowed primary that any of the three candidates could win, and a tough slog to November for both nominees.

One interesting sidenote that could be significant: of the the major candidates for Senate or Governor this year, DeVore is the only one from Southern California. (Technically, Campbell recently moved to Orange County to teach at Chapman University, but he represented Silicon Valley in Congress).