Brown gains slight edge on Whitman

Boxer leads Fio­r­ina in sur­vey. Neg­a­tive im­pres­sions ham­per both GOP can­di­dates.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Cath­leen Decker

Demo­crat Jerry Brown has moved into a nar­row lead over Repub­li­can Meg Whitman in their frac­tious con­test for gover­nor, while his party col­league Bar­bara Boxer has opened a wider mar­gin over GOP nom­i­nee Carly Fio­r­ina in the race for U.S. Se­nate, a new Los An­ge­les Times/USC poll has found.

The Demo­cratic can­di­dates were ben­e­fit­ing from their party’s dom­i­nance in Cal­i­for­nia and the con­tin­ued pop­u­lar­ity here of Pres­i­dent Obama, who has re­tained most of his strength in the state even as he has weak­ened in other parts of the coun­try. Sup­port for Obama may play a key role in the Se­nate con­test, one of a hand­ful na­tion­ally that could de­ter­mine which party wins con­trol of the cham­ber.

At the same time, the sur­vey showed, Repub­li­cans Whitman and Fio­r­ina have yet to con­vince cru­cial groups of vot­ers that their busi­ness back­grounds will trans­late into govern­ment suc­cess.

Brown, the for­mer gover­nor and cur­rent at­tor­ney gen­eral, held a 49%-44% ad­van­tage among likely vot­ers over Whitman, the bil­lion­aire for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive at EBay.

Boxer, a three-term in­cum­bent, led Fio­r­ina, the for­mer head of Hewlet­tPackard, by 51%-43% among likely vot­ers in the sur­vey, a joint ef­fort by The Times and the USC Col­lege of Letters, Arts and Sci­ences.

Both Repub­li­cans were ham­strung by vot­ers’ neg­a­tive im­pres­sions of them — par­tic­u­larly Whitman, who has poured a na­tional record $119 mil­lion of her own money into an ad­ver­tis­ing-heavy cam­paign yet has seen her un­pop­u­lar­ity rise, the sur­vey showed.

Still, in this year of po­lit­i­cal tu­mult, the Democrats were fac­ing stiff chal­lenges too. As they do na­tion­ally, Repub­li­cans in Cal­i­for­nia held a fierce edge in en­thu­si­asm among likely vot­ers. The poll de­fined likely vot­ers based both on past vot­ing his­tory and en­thu­si­asm about vot­ing this year — a mea­sure that projects an elec­tion turnout that is more heav­ily Repub­li­can than is typ­i­cal in Cal­i­for­nia. If the Demo­cratic turnout ends up be­ing even more sharply de­pressed, that would put the party’s can­di­dates at risk.

Brown, for ex­am­ple, trailed by 12 points among those most en­thu­si­as­tic about vot­ing this year. Boxer’s lead re­versed to a 17point deficit among the most en­thu­si­as­tic vot­ers.

Defin­ing the con­tours of

the elec­tion was the state’s dire eco­nomic land­scape, strewn with un­em­ploy­ment, home fore­clo­sures and dys­func­tion in Sacra­mento. Only 8% of likely vot­ers said Cal­i­for­nia was headed in the right di­rec­tion; 86% said it was on the wrong track.

“We’re re­ally in a mess in Cal­i­for­nia,” poll re­spon­dent Bon­nie Kawasaki of River­side said in a fol­low-up in­ter­view. “Noth­ing is get­ting done.”

Echo­ing that newly reg­is­tered Demo­crat was Repub­li­can Tricia John­son.

“We’re al­ready in hor­ri­ble times, but it’s not get­ting bet­ter, it’s get­ting worse,” said John­son, who lives in the Placer County town of Loomis. “I feel like we’re los­ing our coun­try, and Cal­i­for­nia is lead­ing the way.”

Vot­ers dis­ap­pointed

Still, the poll found dis­ap­point­ment more than anger on the part of vot­ers, by bet­ter than 2-1. The ra­tio con­tra­dicted what has been seen else­where, poll­ster Stan Green­berg said.

“This is not ‘tea party’ Amer­ica,” he said.

The Los An­ge­les Times/ USC poll was con­ducted Sept. 15-22 by the Demo­cratic firm of Green­berg Quin­lan Ros­ner and the Repub­li­can firm Amer­i­can View­point. More than 1,500 Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers were sur­veyed, among them 887 likely vot­ers. The mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror for the likely voter sam­ple was 3.3 points in ei­ther di­rec­tion.

The tight con­test for gover­nor of­fered brag­ging rights to both can­di­dates. Brown has with­stood Whitman’s fusil­lade of neg­a­tive ad­ver­tis­ing over the sum­mer; the poll be­gan only one week af­ter Brown started air­ing his first tele­vi­sion ads of the cam­paign. Whitman, for her part, had en­croached upon the usual Demo­cratic lead in Cal­i­for­nia.

Still, Brown led among all three groups Whitman set out to con­quer. Women were sid­ing with him 51%-42%. Lati­nos backed him by a 20point mar­gin. Younger vot­ers, typ­i­cally a source of sup­port for Democrats, were only nar­rowly in Brown’s corner, per­haps be­cause most vot­ers un­der 30 have lit­tle di­rect knowl­edge of him.

Whitman’s most re­cent ads have hit Brown as a taxand-spend lib­eral who is in­ca­pable of cre­at­ing the jobs that can lift Cal­i­for­nia out of its eco­nomic dol­drums. Nei­ther ar­gu­ment ap­pears to have made much of a dent so far. When asked which can­di­date was bet­ter on taxes, Whitman had a 3point lead. She led on the econ­omy, 46%-36%, but he had a 5-point edge on cre­at­ing jobs.

The race ap­peared to be rest­ing less on is­sue po­si­tions than on no­tions of char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis of which as­pects of the poll were hav­ing the strong­est im­pact on the out­come. Whitman led Brown when it came to traits that flow from her cor­po­rate ex­pe­ri­ence — she was judged bet­ter on hav­ing new ideas, en­ergy, and de­ci­sive­ness. She trailed sig­nif­i­cantly, how­ever, when vot­ers were asked which can­di­date un­der­stood them, and which could get the job done. And by a 2-1 ra­tio, vot­ers said they wanted a gover­nor who would be con­cil­ia­tory rather than sin­gle-minded — echo­ing the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion Brown has made of him­self and Whitman.

“There’s a down­side that’s per­sonal that has to do with em­pa­thy and unity,” Green­berg said. “It ap­pears to be weak­en­ing her po­si­tion.”

GOP poll­ster Linda Di­Vall of Amer­i­can View­point dis­puted that ar­gu­ment and said the re­sults showed that Whitman’s back­ground was “stand­ing her in good stead.” Her fate, Di­Vall said, rests on two things:

“Can she con­tinue to hold on and press her ad­van­tage with the most en­thu­si­as­tic vot­ers, and, two, can she garner more sup­port among fe­male vot­ers?” Di­Vall asked. “Ob­vi­ously, she’s com­pet­i­tive.”

In­deed, if Whitman’s slings at Brown have failed to hit the mark, so too have Demo­cratic crit­i­cisms of Whitman. Brown and his al­lies have re­peat­edly blis­tered her for the amount she is spend­ing in the race, but vot­ers were split over whether her largesse or Brown’s de­pen­dence on unions was more prob­lem­atic. Sim­i­larly, they split when asked whether they wor­ried more that Whitman would seek to ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tions or Brown unions. When asked whether they fa­vored a gover­nor with po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence or an out­sider’s per­spec­tive, the tally was a nar­row 49%-45% on the side of govern­ment ex­pe­ri­ence.

Sep­a­rately, nei­ther can­di­date was blind­ingly pop­u­lar. Forty-five per­cent of vot­ers felt fa­vor­ably — and an iden­ti­cal per­cent­age un­fa­vor­ably — about Brown. By com­par­i­son, Obama had a 60%-39% rat­ing.

But Whitman’s stand­ing was more trou­ble­some at 37% fa­vor­able and 47% un­fa­vor­able. Among the state’s in­flu­en­tial non­par­ti­san or “de­cline to state” vot­ers, whose sup­port is crit­i­cal for Repub­li­cans, both can­di­dates had neg­a­tive im­pres­sions. But when forced to choose, those in­de­pen­dent vot­ers sided with Brown, 47%-41%.

Whitman has main­tained a more mod­er­ate pro­file on is­sues than Fio­r­ina, and was run­ning far stronger among some key voter groups than her Repub­li­can ticket mate. On some is­sues that have been im­por­tant in past races, the two have op­pos­ing views — Fio­r­ina, for ex­am­ple, sup­ports ex­panded off­shore oil drilling and op­poses abor­tion while Whitman has ten­ta­tively op­posed off­shore drilling and sup­ports some abor­tion rights. Fio­r­ina’s more con­ser­va­tive po­si­tions ap­peared to be tak­ing a toll: Among non­par­ti­sans and among women, Whitman scored bet­ter.

With five weeks to go be­fore elec­tion day, Boxer and Fio­r­ina com­manded strong ma­jori­ties of their own par­ties, but Boxer won non­par­ti­sans, 56%-34%.

But as with the race for gover­nor, the Se­nate con­test seemed to be driven not so much by spe­cific is­sues, but the can­di­dates them­selves — or vot­ers’ per­cep­tions of them. Vot­ers were es­sen­tially split over which was bet­ter on the econ­omy, im­mi­gra­tion or taxes, al­though Boxer over­rode Fio­r­ina on the en­vi­ron­ment, 46%-25%.

Boxer’s strengths were, like Brown’s, on the em­pa­thy scale. She out­dis­tanced Fio­r­ina 44%-35% when vot­ers were asked who best un­der­stood them; among non­par­ti­sans the gap was 19 points. When asked which can­di­date shares vot­ers’ val­ues — an­other tra­di­tional marker for suc­cess­ful can­di­dates — Boxer won 44%-34%.

Obama sup­ported

Fio­r­ina has spent her cam­paign ar­gu­ing that Boxer is an ex­trem­ist who has ac­com­plished noth­ing in Washington — but vot­ers par­tially re­pu­di­ated those ar­gu­ments. By a rel­a­tively nar­row 39%-34%, likely vot­ers iden­ti­fied Boxer as the can­di­date who was “too po­lit­i­cally ex­treme.”

Nonethe­less, asked who would be an ef­fec­tive voice in the Capi­tol, Boxer won 46%37%. Most galling to Fio­r­ina, per­haps, were the re­sults when poll­sters asked which can­di­date could bring the nec­es­sary change to Washington: three-term in­cum­bent Boxer or first-time can­di­date Fio­r­ina. Vot­ers were split, 38%-40%.

But the ma­jor head­wind against Fio­r­ina may be the pres­i­dent. Fio­r­ina has vowed if elected to work against the pres­i­dent’s agenda, yet Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers were un­equiv­o­cal about their de­sire for a sup­port­ive sen­a­tor. Among likely vot­ers, 56% wanted Obama sup­ported, and only 34% wanted a sen­a­tor who would be an op­po­nent.

One of Obama’s sup­port­ers was Jill Rolen of Fresno County, who said she was irked at crit­i­cism of him.

“I think he’s do­ing what he said he was go­ing to do, how­ever ev­ery­one wants him to flip a coin and ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to be mag­i­cally fixed,” she said. But her cer­tainty ended there. A Demo­crat, she has yet to fig­ure out which can­di­date to pick for gover­nor or sen­a­tor.

“I’m so un­de­cided,” she said. “I see the com­mer­cials and I feel that’s a stupid way to de­cide. I want to know how it af­fects me.”

FIO­R­INA:

Justin Sul­li­van

The Repub­li­can’s biggest head­wind may be her op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Obama.

BOXER:

Justin Sul­li­van

The Demo­crat led 44% to 35% when vot­ers were asked who best un­der­stood them.

BROWN:

Robert Gauthier

The Demo­crat leads among women and Lati­nos; younger vot­ers are nar­rowly in his corner.

WHITMAN:

Lucy Ni­chol­son

The Repub­li­can has given a record $119 mil­lion to her cam­paign but is los­ing pop­u­lar­ity.

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