Can Carly win the general election?
SAN DIEGO -- Three weeks ago, a Republican U.S Senate candidate repeatedly entreated members of his party not to nominate his opponent, who he would warned would be a potential problem in the general election.
Trey Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state, didn't convince a lot of voters in the Bluegrass State: Rand Paul won the GOP primary by 24 points. Paul then made a string of controversial comments that for now at least suggests that Grayson was right that he might be the safer candidate.
Are Republican voters in California about to make a similarly risky choice? In his final campaign ad in the race here, former U.S. Rep Tom Campbell is strongly making the argument that he is the best candidate to defeat Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), based on polls showing Campbell ahead of Boxer in head-to-head match-ups, while the frontrunner in the GOP primary, Carly Fiorina, trails Boxer.
"Never before has a poll shown a Republican beating Barbara Boxer," Campbell says in the ad ,which actually displays the numbers of a recent Los Angles Times poll, which put Campbell ahead of Boxer by seven, while Fiorina trailed the incumbent by six.
Republican voters in California, like voters in both parties for years, don't seem willing to cast their favorite candidates aside for this electability argument. Polls here show Fiorina surging toward a double-digit victory and state assemblyman Chuck Devore, who has trailed the two leading candidates for most of the race, closing on Campbell, who could finish in third place. And surveys have shown that GOP voters themselves, despite the results, say they view Fiorina as more likely to win.
Embracing Fiorina has its risks. In a state where Republicans who are more conservative on fiscal issues but back abortion rights, such as current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, tend to win, Fiorina has laid out a series of stands on issues that closely resemble most Republicans in the Senate, even as she is running in a state that leans to the left. She is against abortion rights and has called for repeal of the recently passed health-care law.
A few of her views, such as her and Devore both saying in a debate last month that people on the "no-fly" lists should be allowed to purchase guns, are being cast as extremist by Democrats. And in a year in which Democrats acknowledge that voters are wary of incumbents, Fiorina could help fire up the Democratic base. She has aired an ad depicting climate change as a "weather" problem. And Democrats plan to aggressively attack her tenure at Hewlett-Packard, where Fiorina headed a company that laid off employees and outsourced jobs.
But Republican voters might be smart to cast their lot with Fiorina. Campbell, despite his strong showings in polls, has failed in one regard in showing his electability: getting elected. He lost in the GOP Senate primary in 1992, fell to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in 2000 and started running for the Senate this year only after he failed to gain traction as a gubernatorial candidate.
In a very expensive state to run for office, Fiorina can use some of the millions she made in her business career. She had already pumped more than $5 million into her primary campaign.
And Fiorina, despite her lack of political experience, is no Rand Paul: She is a polished speaker from her days as a business executive, used to repeating familiar talking points as most effective candidates do, and while conservative, she's not likely to declare her opposition to civil rights legislation.
-- Perry Bacon Jr.
Perry Bacon Jr.
June 8, 2010; 4:08 PM ET
Categories: Primaries , West
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