THE BLOG
05/23/2008 06:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Republicans: California Dreamin'

California Dreamin'. Great old song for the Mamas & the Papas. Not so great, on the evidence so far, for the Macs & the Arnolds. Or, specifically, the California Dream of John McCain beating Barack Obama in the Golden State.

I'll leave it to others to discuss the apparent psychosis of the Hillary Clinton campaign -- the formerly inevitable presidential frontrunner said today that one reason she shouldn't drop out in May is that Bobby Kennedy wasn't assassinated until June!!!! -- certainly one of the most bizarre and frankly evil statements ever made by a serious political figure.

Yet I digress from the main event. Which does not involve Hillary Clinton. Let's move on.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told me early this year that he would make sure that California was "in play" for the Republican presidential candidate. Arnold's pick, John McCain, thanks to the former action superstar's help, essentially locked up the nomination when he won a smashing Super Tuesday victory in the California primary over Mitt Romney, who soon exited the race.

But Schwarzenegger's belief, backed by his top young advisors Steve Schmidt and Adam Mendelsohn, both of whom now work with McCain, is looking quite ragged. They had high hopes for a McCain breakthrough among Latino voters. Because McCain worked with Ted Kennedy on a comprehensive immigration package that helped illegal immigrants already in the country. And, somewhat more nefariously, because there has been antipathy between Latinos and African-Americans, though they would never say that.

But, with Obama ahead of McCain by 3 to 1 among Latinos in California, and to to borrow a line from the first Indiana Jones picture, "It was not to be, cherie."

A new poll by the most comprehensive polling agency left in California, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), shows that Obama has a huge lead in the Golden State over McCain. And, further, that only the most extraordinary "re-branding" efforts for the Republican candidate would do anything to overcome the mostly pro-Democratic stance of voters in the biggest state in the Union.

Both Obama and Clinton hold big leads in California over John McCain. Obama's lead is the biggest, 54% to 37% over the Arizona senator. The Democratic frontrunner's 17-point lead over McCain in California is nearly twice as large as his 49% to 40% lead in March.

Clinton leads McCain, too, 51% to 39%. But, while she won a 51% to 43% victory over Obama in the California primary back on February 5th, Obama is today much more popular in the Golden State now.

Obama has a 59% favorable rating, with 36% unfavorable. Clinton has a 46% favorable rating, with 51% unfavorable. McCain is 42% favorable and 53% unfavorable.

Republicans have hoped to put California in play for the general election. Here Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's endorsement of McCain helped him win the decisive primary of his nomination fight, knocking Mitt Romney out of the race. These numbers do little to support that notion.

There's not much in the poll to suggest that California is anything other than a largely Democratic state. And Schwarzenegger himself, winner of two 17-point landslides of his own in races for governor, very popular at the end of last year, has seen his ratings slide.

Schwarzenegger's job approval rating used to be in the 60s. But in this poll, among likely voters, the former action superstar is approved by 45% and disapproved by 49%. His numbers are lower among all Californians, with only 41% approving of his performance as governor.

It's all about Californians' view of appropriate governance. Let's look at the chronic state budget crisis. Schwarzenegger's May budget revision gets a thumbs down from voters. Only 35% approve, while 57% disapprove. That's the lowest level of approval for his handling of the budget since he has been in office.

There is no clear popular consensus on how to fix the chronic budget mess. Nevertheless, a clear plurality supports a combination of cuts and taxes over the ostensible Republican position of cuts-only, by a margin of 43% to 33%. Only 8% favor a taxes-only approach to solving the budget crisis. Thus we see that 51% support some tax hikes as at least part of the solution vs. only 33% who reject taxes out of hand, which represents the Democratic approach vs. the Republican approach. Interestingly, 6% think it fine to borrow money and run an ongoing budget deficit. Which has been what's happening.

But what taxes? A hike in the traditional sales tax is not favored. A new services-oriented sales tax is also rejected. The approach that does seem favored is that of taxes on corporations and the wealthy. 63% support higher corporate taxes; 69% support higher taxes on the wealthy. In other words, voters want to tax others. Especially corporations and the wealthy. Or, to put another way, precisely the folks John McCain said on Thursday at an event I attended in Silicon Valley, should be taxed less.

And what cuts? That gets vague. There doesn't seem to be any widespread enthusiasm for cuts in health, welfare, or, naturally, the sacred cow of the education budget, the latter of which 61% say they want to protect above all else.

In short, a somehow confused and occasionally schizophrenic electorate. But one that generally supports the Democratic approach on governance, without trusting legislative Democrats with the keys to the safe.

Rent control is favored, 54% to 38%. I do not believe that John McCain can afford, with his conservative base, to support rent control, whatever he may believe in his heart.

So let's review. I'll write about the Republicans' re-branding conundrum, which is quite severe, soon. But suffice to say for now, I attended a McCain event on Thursday in Silicon Valley in which he called for lower corporate taxes, less taxes on the wealthy, and fewer regulations.

Which is exactly the opposite of what this comprehensive poll indicates lies at the heart of winning California. So that is not exactly, shall we say, a formula for overcoming Obama's big lead.

Schwarznegger is an impressive salesman -- and more into governmental intervention than McCain -- and his advisors-turned-McCain's advisors are sharp operatives.

But absent the proverbial meteor -- or, as Hillary, amazingly, would have it, the assassin's bullet -- striking Barack Obama, California is going to the Democratic candidate from Hawaii via Illinois.