AS CALIFORNIA GOES ...?

by Richard Reeves
uexpress.com

LOS ANGELES -- Yes, you can get too much of a good/bad thing. I suspect many Californians would be glad to vote for Meg Whitman as governor if she would just take her commercials off the air. For almost a year, people here have begun and ended each day with the image of Meg on their television screens.

The ubiquitous $200 million woman -- that's about $200 million of her own money spent on her own campaign -- has a rather simple message: "I'm here!" Also "I ran a business and I'm richer than you. Way richer."

For nuance, the Republican candidate adds that she is not "a career politician." No, what she is is proof that whoever said you can never be too rich or too thin was wrong.

The "career politician" she is attacking is, of course, her Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, who was too thin the first time he was governor in the 1970s. Well, he's back! And thin now only on top. The first time around he had thick dark hair. No more.

This was always meant to be a weird election in the California manner. The weirdest thing happened last Sunday. After months of neck-and-neck polls, a new poll by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California was reported in the Times under the headline: "Brown's lead doubles in one month -- Whitman loses ground in key voter blocs."

It seems, according to the poll, that Attorney General Brown, former governor, former mayor of Oakland, former secretary of state, has jumped to a 52 percent-to-39 percent lead among likely voters. It's not that Brown, with all due respect, has run a dazzling campaign. Obviously, he is better informed than Whitman, at least where politics and government are concerned, but this "seismic" shift, to use a California word, must have something to do with Whitman. How long must folks wait to get this humorless blond lady, lecturing them every 10 minutes, out of their homes?

Or perhaps, something more is going on. Have all Republicans, or conservatives or tycoons, peaked too soon? If this election had been held a month ago, I think Whitman would have won and so, too, would her running mate, the former president of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, running against Sen. Barbara Boxer. The Democrats, at least, may be benefitting from Republican overspending and overexposure.

The Times/USC Poll reported that Boxer was eight points ahead of Fiorina, who has had the sense to spend only double-digit millions of her own fortune. The poll numbers also seemed to be moving in a more liberal direction on two controversial propositions.

Proposition 23, which would have effectively killed California's pioneering efforts to limit greenhouse gases, a proposition backed by oil companies, is supported by only 32 percent of likely voters. Proposition 25, which would change the law mandating a two-thirds vote in the state legislature to pass a budget and return to the old majority rule standard, is supported by 58 percent of likely voters.

Interesting stuff. In every case, as the campaign here drags on -- both Whitman and Fiorina had to go through serious primary campaigns -- voters appear to be moving a bit to the left, toward Democrats and liberal positions, in the closing days of the campaigning. I have traveled in only six states during this campaign, but at the moment it appears to me that, while the California shifts may be more dramatic than most, there is some momentum on the Democratic side nationally as well.

Surprising? Well, that's the word pundits use on election night when things don't go as they predicted. But if the country goes as California goes -- a rarity -- we could indeed be in for some surprises next Tuesday night.