Certainly the governor’s race (in which Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner are battling it out for the right to run against Democrat Jerry Brown) is sucking up more attention than the Senate campaign. The amount of money being spent there is awesome. Whitman has already spent more than $75 million, Poizner has spent $15 to $20 million, and we’re starting to see some of the independent expenditure money come in as well. It’s competitive just to get on the air, let alone get a message through.
That’s got to complicate things for candidates running up and down the ticket, and also in the U.S. Senate race. In terms of trying to get a message out, for someone like Chuck DeVore, who’s trying to play catch-up according to all the polls, that task becomes more difficult.
One interesting thing, and maybe this is tied into the governor’s race sucking up all the oxygen, is that there’s an increased importance on ballot designation, the three-word description you’re allowed to use on the ballot. DeVore bumped from 5 or 6 percent to 14 or 15 percent in a recent poll, and the assumption was that it was because of his ballot designation. In most earlier polls, he was referred to as an assemblyman—not a very good ballot designation in this anti-incumbent atmosphere. But his actual ballot designation is “legislator/military reservist,” which is much better, especially in a Republican primary.
Related to that, Carly Fiorina’s ballot designation is “business executive.” Not just businesswoman, but business executive—which, in this climate, could prove to be a mistake. That could be erased by a vigorous paid media campaign, but if a candidate can’t break through, I’m not sure that’s what you’d want voters to know about you.
3. Voters in the Republican primary might not all be Republican. And some of them will start casting votes this week.
Voters who decline to state a party preference, who make up about 20 percent of the state’s electorate, are eligible to vote in either primary. This year, you’ve got competitive Republican primaries in both the U.S. Senate race and the governor’s race, and no competitive primaries on the Democratic side in either race. The modeling from the Whitman campaign estimates that 8 to 10 percent of the voters in this Republican primary will be decline-to-state. That might be a little high, but that’s the number they’re citing.
The majority of decline-to-state voters in California lean Democratic, but I don’t know if that would help someone like Campbell in this race or not. It’s very expensive to go after those voters, and you don’t see a lot of targeting and messaging directed at them, on the assumption that while they may participate in the primary, they’re not going to be swayed by a message that’s any different than the typical primary voter.
The other factor to think about, structurally, is absentee voting. Ballots went out Tuesday, and it’s estimated that more than half of the voters in the Republican primary will be by absentee ballot. Some of those get handed in late, closer to Election Day, but about a quarter of them get returned in the first week. So Election Day starts now. Folks can’t just go on the air in the last two weeks and hope to move the needle by ten points, because the election is actually a month long.