Democrats across America can hope that California is a harbinger of things to come. Because if there is one clearly discernible trend towards the Democrats in the 2010 midterms, it can be found in the Golden State.
Consider the Senate race between incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and GOP challenger Carly Fiorina:
Boxer has pulled into a narrow lead in recent weeks, a fact confirmed even by Rasmussen and SurveyUSA, two pollsters that have been quite bullish on GOP prospects this cycle. In August, the four polls of the race split evenly between Boxer and her challenger. In September, Boxer has led in the last eight polls released on the contest, creeping into the 50s in this weekend's Los Angeles Times poll, which had her up by nine.
What's going on here? Well, it could be any combination of three things:
- Recalcitrant Democrats might finally be coming home. Tom Jensen at PPP noted when they released their poll (PDF file) this month that the enthusiasm gap in California is not as acute as they have seen it elsewhere. The gap between the 2008 vote margin (+25 Obama) and the current sample by PPP (+21 Obama) was pretty minimal.
- Boxer always seems to close well. It is an article of faith among California Democrats that Boxer does better on Election Day than the polls would seem to predict. I checked out that theorem back in June, and found that (in 2004, at least) that was precisely the case.
- Boxer has been on the air in the second half of the month with a brutally effective ad regarding Fiorina's tenure at HP:
Put all of those things together, and Boxer is in a significantly more healthy electoral position than she was a month ago.
Meanwhile, a similar resurgence seems to have resurrected California's Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Jerry Brown appeared to be on the ropes at the close of the summer. After Labor Day, however, he too has been in the midst of a bit of a comeback:
Brown's campaign has been hitting on themes similar to Boxer's effective parry at Fiorina. While his position is less comfortable at the moment than Boxer's, it is worth noting that there is a sharper change in the polls over the course of the past month.
Status of California Governor's race, September
Sept 1-15 (4 polls): Whitman +4.3%
Sept 15-27 (6 polls): Brown +2.5%
If Brown can forge a small lead, he might be able to hold it. One of the negative side effects for Whitman of her nine-figure "flood the zone" advertising strategy is that it will be harder for any new ads to have any great impact on the race. California voters have seen Meg Whitman ads now for 7 1/2 months. Diminishing returns has already set in, and that will make it harder to wrest any momentum away from Brown.
Both Fiorina and Whitman are still within striking distance, of course (especially Whitman). But there seems to be a turning of the tide, and there is a lot more reason for Democrats to feel optimism in the Golden State now than there was even three weeks ago.