By Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts
By lurching to the right to defeat Steve Poizner for the Republican nomination for governor, Meg Whitman has eroded her standing among independents and moderates, women and Latinos - all key constituencies in a general election against Democrat Jerry Brown.
In March, before she pulled out all the stops to outflank Poizner among conservatives over illegal immigration, abortion and taxes, to name a few issues, Whitman's favorable-to-unfavorable ratings were 25-21% among independents, 29-25% among moderates, 30-21% among women and 25-12% among Latinos, according to the USC/LA Times poll.
But in the May survey, eMeg's favorable-unfavorable standings were 25-39% among independents, 29-42% among moderates, 28-37% among women and 22-31% among Latinos.
Likewise, in March Whitman was running ahead of Brown 44-41% in a simulated general election match-up, including 40-39% among independents and 44-38% among women. But she now trails Brown 44-38% overall, 48-30% among independents and 46-34% among women.
"It's not irretrievable," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "But it puts her in a hole going forward."
By comparison, Democrat Jerry Brown, who has been able to avoid the crossfire between Whitman and Poizner, has maintained positive favorability ratings among these key groups - 33-26% among independents, 38-29% among moderates, 38-29% among women and 33-16% among Latinos.
In a conference call with reporters last week, Whitman's chief strategist, Mike Murphy, addressed the issue of his candidate's loss of support among Latinos, arguing that the former eBay CEO would not suffer permanently because Latinos are not single-issue voters.
But Whitman's embrace of the Neanderthal Wing of the GOP has only barely been driven home to key constituencies, and only from the right - not yet from the left. Except for the populist attacks on her by Poizner and the California Democratic Party over her connections to Goldman Sachs, most of the TV ads aimed at her have tried to make her out to be a squishy liberal.
While Poizner has apparently bet his entire end-game strategy on the belief that one's stand on the Arizona anti-immigration law - he's for it, Whitman's against it -- has become the dividing line in the Republican primary, that idea seems wrong-headed.
According to the survey, 50% of registered voters support the Arizona law, including 77% of Republicans. But Whitman is beating Poizner among those who favor the law by 54-29%. He actually does better - 46-29% -- among those who oppose the law.
But the sharp divide on the Arizona law helps to illuminate how Whitman's efforts to look tough on immigration have hurt her in the general election. Among those who support the law, she beats Brown 55-30%. But among those who oppose the law, Brown leads by a huge margin of 61-19%.
The USC/LA Times survey suggests some areas where Brown has yet to make a mark. While he led Whitman among Latinos 52-29% in March, his standing slipped to 40-31% in May. And while upwards of 85% of voters 45 and older have an opinion about Brown (4-5 points favorable), only 34% of those 18-19 years old know enough about Brown even to express an opinion.
As we've noted before, however, Krusty the General has yet to remind Latinos that he put Cruz Reynoso on the California Supreme Court, Mario Obledo in his cabinet, marched with Caesar Chavez, created the Agricultural Relations Board and dated Linda Ronstadt. Nor has he yet told younger voters about Whitman's flip-flops on offshore oil drilling or her stance against California's pioneering law to address climate change.
And we're still not sure how Brown, who opposes the legalize-and-tax marijuana initiative on the November ballot, will play the dope card. Being attorney general and all (and having been a pretty straight-laced Jesuit school boy as a youth) it's hard to figure how he will make use of this factoid from the USC/LA Times poll:
Among those who opposed the legalization of marijuana (41% of voters), Whitman leads Brown 45-35%. But among those who favor legalization (49%), Brown leads 53-33%. And among those who used marijuana in the past year, Brown smokes Whitman 60-34%. Hey campers, want some Fritos with that precinct list?
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