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California and 'left coast' bucking the pro-GOP election trend?

In some key Senate and governors' races, the 'left coast' of California, Washington, and Oregon isn't tilting toward GOP as much as the rest of the country. Why not?

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / October 18, 2010

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California spoke to a worker at an Oakland manufacturing plant Oct. 8. She leads Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO, in polls.


Los Angeles

California is bucking the national Republican-leaning trend this election cycle. Democrat Jerry Brown narrowly leads Meg Whitman in the race for governor, while – in a race that could prove crucial for Democratic efforts to hold Senate control – Democrat Barbara Boxer is narrowly ahead of Carly Fiorina in the US Senate race.

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Fueled by voter anger over everything from government bailouts, the handling of the Gulf oil spill, and health-care policy, Republicans lead in Senate races from Boca Raton to Boise, Philadelphia to Phoenix, and have narrow leads in West Virginia, Colorado, and Kentucky. In gubernatorial races, Republicans have significant statistical leads in all but Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, and five of six New England states.

"The GOP trend is everywhere," says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and author of several books on election trends. He notes that the states where Democrats are leading in Senate races cast 136 electoral votes in 2008, but the states where Republicans are leading cast 274 electoral votes.

Why isn't California joining the trend?

"Given that California leans strongly Democratic, a GOP national trend may have smaller effects statewide than [in] other states," says Mr. Schier.

Democrats are still popular among their base, even if that base is less unenthusiastic than it was a year ago, says Lara Brown, author of "Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants."

"California is one of the Democrats' base states," she says. "Hence it is not really a surprise that, as the election gets closer, California Democrats – including the many liberal Democrats that make up the state Democratic Party – are doing precisely what President Obama wants because they still approve and agree with him."

But it's not just the base that is backing Demo­cratic candidates. Southern California construction foreman Booth Cameron, an Independent, says he's sticking with the Democrats because the GOP trend is based on "tea party" fearmongering. "I use facts to determine my vote – not emotion," he says.

A few months ago, says Ms. Brown, many liberals were not getting involved and many Democratic base states looked vulnerable.