California Dreamin’

Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts suggests that there may not be many “safe” Democratic seats in Congress among those that will be contested this year. For example, Republicans are hoping to defeat Sen. Barbara Boxer in California. In fact, Boxer herself has suggested that her seat is far from safe.
Bruce Kesler argues, however, that “Boxer doth protest too much and is actually trying to get California Democrats revved up early, which Coakley failed to do in Massachusetts.” According to Kesler, California is not Massachusetts. For one thing, “the percentage of Independent registrations is much lower than in Massachusetts, and the percent of Democrat registrations much higher — 44% Dem, 31% Rep, 20% Indep, [4.5% other] vs about 50% registered Independent in Mass.” For another, Hispanics make up a substantial part of the California electorate and might be solidly behind Boxer this fall, come what may.
Kesler agrees that Boxer can be beat, however, and polls suggest that this dream is not so far-fetched. In a recent Rasmussen poll of California voters, Boxer was favored by only 46 percent of respondents regardless of which of her Republican challengers she was pitted against. Former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina got 43 percent against Boxer; former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell received 42 percent; and State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore got 40 percent.
The registration figures Kesler cites are daunting, but not insurmountable. For example, assuming the turnout by affiliation mirrors registration, if the Republican candidate wins 20 percent of Democrats and 90 percent of Republicans, he or she would only need to edge out Boxer among independent voters and those belonging to “other” parties.
If one assumes that the “other” voters are “Green” or some other variety of leftist not widely available to a Republican candidate, the Republican would the need to win about 65 percent of the independent vote. That’s difficult, of course, but there are indications that Scott Brown accomplished it in Massachusetts. And if there’s an “enthusiasm gap” in favor of the Republican candidate, as there has been in the key elections since November 2008, he or she wouldn’t need to do quite that well among independents.
The problem lies with nominating a candidate who can crush Boxer among independents and get 20 percent of the Democratic vote, while still pulling in around 90 percent of Republicans. But if the economy doesn’t improve substantially and if the Democrats don’t moderate their approach to governing, this problem may take care of itself.

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