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Closing in California

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When the Los Angeles Times published its last poll for the races between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown for governor and between Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senate, veteran Times' watchers laughed out loud.

Like clockwork the Times had hired pollsters that found the Democrats with much larger leads than any other major polling form.

This is a ritual every two years (and sometimes more often when a recall of a failed Democratic governor requires an extra trip to the ballot box.) The Times opines on the dynamics of a political race between left and right in a decidedly upbeat fashion for the left, that result gets splashed across the Times front page and then mixed into punditry for the next two weeks. The inevitable blown call gets forgotten or explained away when the result comes in with the Republican winning or losing by a far closer margin than the Times had confidently predicted.

When the Times had real readership, this dance-of-the-lefty pollsters used to matter much more than it does today when the paper has dropped into the state's second tier of media outlets. It has been years since the Times could make a mark on a campaign, though this hasn't stopped the stable of remaining leftists embedded on Spring Street from trying. Only the Minneapolis Star Tribune has been wrong more often and in more spectacular ways than the Times, and like the Strib, the Times exists more as a memory than as a force.

The embarrassment about the gap in projection and result could be particularly acute this year, as poll after poll shows a neck-and-neck race between Fiorina and Boxer and with Whitman buoyed by late numbers which --if the Times was remotely correct-- suggest enormous momentum behind her. Whitman has built a formidable get-out-the-vote effort which dwarfs the gigged-up Brown effort that is relying on a union workforce, but one that this year doesn't have the heart it once had as the collapse of the state's finances looms ever closer and closer to reneging on the pumped-up pensions promised in years past. A Democratic governor will almost certainly lead the state into default and the loss of those retirement dreams, and even the most loyal union foot soldier knows that a Republican in the statehouse is preferable to a broken contract.

Whitman was indeed wounded among Latino voters by the Gloria Allred drive-by, but not fatally, and her powerful closing arguments in ads and earned media are resonating even as Jerry Brown has gone to ground in an effort to prevent more embarrassing gaffs in the closing 96 hours of the campaign.

Fiorina is also surging, assisted by a $3 million ad buy from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and even more by the deeply offensive visage of Barbara Boxer, forced to campaign openly for the first time in years, which makes every appearance into a reminder of her infamous "Please don't call me ma'am" meltdown. Fiorina's brief hospitalization for infection related to her reconstructive surgery last year following breast cancer did not lead to a halt in her momentum and may have even reminded a large swath of the electorate what a fighter she is, and what fighter California could use in the years ahead.

Helping morale in both Whitman and Fiorina camps are a series of polls from Congressional campaigns in deep blue districts: GOP nominee Van Tran is ahead of the always slightly ditzy Loretta Sanchez in Orange County; in the Fresno area, farmer Andy Vidak is ahead of incumbent Democrat Jim Costa who sided with Nancy Pelosi on Obamacare and didn't get the water to the central valley, cut-off because of the "endangered" Delta smelt, flowing again; and David Harmer is ahead in the burbs of San Francisco, pushing past Pelosi-clone Jerry McNerny. If one or more of these Republican challengers win, much less all three, it is hard to imagine Boxer or Brown surviving the red tide that appears to be flowing.

Many a pollster is warning that they have never seen anything like the enthusiasm gap showing up in their data, and their "likely voter screens" may be deeply warped by nature of the most unusual year we are experiencing. The returns from the early states will also no doubt establish a mood for the final four hours of voting in California.

So cut and paste that Times poll for future reference. There is no shaming the NPR west that is the dwindling band of hyper-partisans at the once-significant paper, but it is still worth a few laughs to remind everyone of the paper's "commitment to objectivity and the highest standards of journalism."

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