CA-Governor: Whitman and Brown, Up and Down

First, Democrat Jerry Brown had a solid lead in the California governor's race. Then, Republican Meg Whitman surged into a tie. Now, Brown's back ahead. But, the ups and downs so far probably don't mean all that much
by | May 25, 2010

We don't even have a Republican nominee for governor of California yet and already the general election prognosis has changed twice. The pollster.com chart on the matchup between Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman (who remains the likely Republican nominee) tells the story:

At first, Brown had a solid lead, mainly because he's a Democrat running in a Democratic state. Then, Whitman started spending millions of dollars on campaign ads, presenting herself as an outsider who could fix the state's problems. Democratic fortunes nationwide continued to tumble. Gradually, she pulled into a tie with Brown. The race looked like a toss-up or, if anything, Whitman seemed to have the edge. After all, she had plenty more money to spend.

Since then, Whitman's momentum has stalled. Democrats and Steve Poizner, her Republican primary opponent, teamed up to pummel her (on her ties to Goldman Sachs, among other things). The media complained that she is standoffish. Poizner's challenge forced Whitman to move to the right. While Whitman's lead in the primary appears to be holding, Brown has retaken the lead in the general election. The Democrat's lead may be growing. Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling teases a new survey:

The primary for Governor has proven to be much more polarizing than the one for Senate, as Whitman's supporters strongly dislike Poizner and Poizner's supporters strongly dislike Whitman. The ramifications of that division will be seen in general election polling to be released later this week, which shows the GOP with a much better chance in the Senate race than in the one for Governor.

...

If the Republicans are going to have any chance of beating Jerry Brown this fall there's going to need to be some serious healing after the primary. The favorability numbers Poizner and Whitman have with each other's voters look more like what you would find in a general election than in a primary.

Most polls have shown Republicans trailing by a few points in the Senate race. So, if PPP sees a big difference between the two, it either means the Republican Senate candidates are surging or that Whitman is falling further compared to other polling. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this were the first poll since January that gave Brown a double-digit lead.

But, I also wouldn't be surprised if Whitman bounced back again fairly quickly once the primary is over. The truth is that while the primary between Whitman and Poizner has been contentious, there's no great ideological gulf between the two of them that should prevent the supporters of one from backing the other. Both have campaigned as fiscal conservatives, while generally deemphasizing social issues (unless you count immigration as a social issue).

That said, I do suspect that the Republican primary has tarnished Whitman a bit among independents and moderate Democrats -- voters she'll need to win the general election. Of course, all of Brown's imperfections remain too. He's not a fresh face, he doesn't have personal wealth to spend and he's always been quite quirky.

The upshot is that the ups and downs so far probably don't mean all that much. The general election should be very competitive, although Brown probably starts with a slight edge.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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