Fiorina edges Campbell in latest poll as voters begin to divide

With scarcely three weeks before the California Senate Primary, and ads flying back and forth at lightning speed, California Republicans have finally begun to make up their minds with regard to whom they support for the much-coveted Senate nod.

The results so far are less-than-perfect for Tom Campbell, who until recently, held an undisputed lead over his two challengers, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. Yet that lead is now becoming an open question, as recent data and analysis show Fiorina and DeVore gaining on Campbell.

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

     “A new poll finds that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has a narrow 25 percent to 23 percent lead over Campbell, a former U.S. House member from Silicon Valley and law professor, with conservative state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore gaining ground at 16 percent. Although Fiorina’s lead is within the 5 percent margin of error, the poll highlights Campbell’s vulnerabilities as Election Day approaches: He is underfunded compared with Fiorina and under attack by conservatives unhappy with his moderate record on taxes and social issues.”

The poll is by no means conclusive – the largest bloc of voters are still those that “don’t know” whom they support, with 36% – but it may send signals about what is likely to happen when the voting populace begins making hard decisions. That is, while Campbell’s electability and general affability may be enough to hold him steady, it may not be enough to generate genuine enthusiasm if the race tightens.

Everyone wants to back a winner, but the danger of being known only as a winner is that when you cease to win, your attraction dims quickly. Campbell is going to need more than just his winning record to win the hearts of undecided voters, though judging by his recent condemnation of Elena Kagan, he may be starting to break out the red meat.

Fiorina, meanwhile, having not held a lead for as long as Campbell, has had time to build a brand with independence from the label of inevitability. Her endorsement from Sarah Palin, while apt to raise some eyebrows among those seeking to use a moderate image to bolster the California GOP’s electoral fortunes, is the sort of thing that undeniably excites the rank and file.

Moreover, while Fiorina would be wise to stay away from political ads, her indefatigable nature and populist style may draw some support from Republicans seeking a good candidate in an otherwise rather lackluster election season. Make no mistake – Fiorina is still the underdog, and one poll alone is not enough to undo that – but she has advantages, and there’s no point in overlooking them.

Which brings us at last to DeVore, whom the poll also shows gaining a percentage point. As the conservative’s candidate, DeVore has both the most to gain and the least to lose from undecided voters.  Having stayed reliably in last place, any bump in the polls can only be good news for DeVore, whereas any drop can only be counted as him retaining previous levels of support. Thus, if momentum begins to build for DeVore, look for it to keep building against all but the most serious obstacles. To be sure, DeVore has weaknesses, such as his narrow ideological appeal, but he should also be considered still in the race, pending some cataclysmic drop in the polls.

The race is not over, not by a long shot. One suspects, looking at the recent news, that we are in for an exciting three weeks, with the result being anything but predetermined.