Do Democrats need rescuing in California?

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Republicans might have to part with some hard-earned fundraising to shore up Texas, but they might not be alone in defending previously safe territory. A new poll out last Friday in California shows the gubernatorial race to be unexpectedly close, and not just between two flavors of progressives. The leading Republican contender is within five points of Gavin Newsom, a result that might force Democrats to shift funds away from other states:

If California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was expecting an easy race for the governor’s mansion, a poll released Thursday didn’t carry much in the way of good news.

While the statewide poll from Probolsky Research showed Newsom leading with 44 percent of respondents, his Republican opponent John Cox had 39 percent support; a further 17 percent of those polled were unsure whom they would support.

The demos produced an eye-popping result, especially in the Golden State:

While the poll found that “intensity of support is strong for both candidates,” Cox led in support among male and white voters, as well as voters aged 65 and older, while Newsom led in every other age group, as well as among female, black and Asian voters.

Hispanic voters split nearly evenly between the two candidates; 33.6 percent supported Cox while 34.5 percent supported Newsom.

If that’s accurate — and it’s still a big if — then California Democrats could be in serious trouble. Hispanic voters are a large part of the electorate, and a demographic in which Democrats dominate. An even split among these voters could well tilt the election to the GOP.

How likely is this to be accurate, though? Probolsky isn’t exactly a household name in polling, although neither the Sacramento Bee nor the San Francisco Chronicle note any reservations about its track record or methodology. This survey is much more of an outlier than the recent polling in Texas showing Ted Cruz in trouble, although it’s been a while since RealClearPolitics has added a California poll to its aggregation. Three previous polls in June and July show Newsom with commanding leads, leading to an average lead of 52.7/29.3 over Cox. This would suggest that a dramatic movement has come since the last of those polls in early July. It’s not impossible in a two-month period, but it’s not the way I’d bet if I was putting money on it.

If it is accurate, then Newsom’s not the only one in trouble, the Chronicle points out, although it doesn’t really help Republicans. Even if some of them think it does:

Additionally, the poll found that Sen. Feinstein leads progressive challenger Kevin de León 37 percent to 29, with a whopping 34 percent of participants undecided. …

Feinstein won 44 percent of the primary vote and de León won just 12 percent, with the latter narrowly edging out Republican James Bradley (8 percent) to move on to the general election. …

Also interesting is the fact that de León is doing better with Republicans than Feinstein, despite the fact that de León is advertising himself as the “progressive alternative” to the longtime Senator.

That’s an oddity that defies belief. Thanks to California’s open-primary system, voters have a choice between two Democrats in the general election. Perhaps Republicans just want to wreak a little revenge on Feinstein, but she’s still more conservative than de León. Plus, this will almost certainly be her last term in office, which would mean that Republicans will get a shot at an open seat in six years … unless they elect a younger person now who will be an incumbent in 2024. What would make a decades-long de León incumbency more attractive to Republicans than the last gasp of Feinstein in fending off a progressive extremist?

Here too the results seem like an outlier. The same earlier polls that had Newsom up by 20+ points over Cox had Feinstein up over de León by a similar amount. But if this signals a trend, then Democrats might have to marshal resources earmarked for other states to combat it, just as Republicans are doing for Texas. As in most things political, the best way to see the truth is to follow the money. If cash starts shifting into the Golden State rather than out of it, then take this seriously.

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