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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will Abortion Be a Defining Issue in California?

For non-Californians interested in Golden State elections, there’s probably a tendency to lump together the campaigns of the Republican nominees for governor (Meg Whitman) and senator (Carly Fiorina). After all, both are women; both are former corporate executives; both came to national political prominence during John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign; and both are facing very well-known Democratic pols (gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer).
Moreover, both these races are very competitive, as indicated by new Field Polls over the last two days. Brown leads Whitman 44-43 (Whitman was up 46-43 in the last Field Poll back in March), while Boxer leads Fiorina 47-44 (she was up 45-44 in March).
But there are some pretty important differences between the Whitman and Fiorina campaigns. Most obviously, Meg’s a billionaire while Carly’s a mere multi-millionaire, and Whtiman’s already spent $100 million in this cycle, far more than Fiorina. Beyond that, though, the two Republicans differ on two highly inflammatory issues. One is immigration, where Whitman, while doing some pretty heavy illegal-immigrant-bashing during her primary, stopped short of endorsing Arizona’s new show-your-papers law; Fiorina did endorse it. According to Field, Whitman trails Brown among Latinos by a relatively small 50-39 margin, while Fiorina trails Boxer 55-32.
The other issue is abortion, where Whitman is basically pro-choice, while Fiorina is the darling of right-to-life organizations (and their closest national political ally, Sarah Palin). Here’s how the excellent California political site Calbuzz analyzes the potential impact of the abortion issue:

No pro-life candidate has won at the top of the ticket in California in a race for governor or Senate in more than two decades. And the new [Field] poll shows a considerable gender gap which suggests that Boxer may be benefiting from her stand on choice compared to Fiorina’s, even before the issue is driven home to voters.

Indeed, it’s interesting that Boxer still holds a lead over Fiorina despite discouraging approval/disapproval ratings (41-52, compared to 34-29 for Fiorina), and you can bet Boxer will fan doubts about her opponent on abortion is what has become a strong pro-choice state.

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