Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama Approval Tumbles in California: Is Golden State in Play for GOP?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama Approval Tumbles in California: Is Golden State in Play for GOP?

Article excerpt

President Obama's fundraising trip to California this week comes as a key poll shows his approval rating in the Golden State falling below 50 percent. It suggests Obama has work to do, experts say.

The sound of "ka-ching" that rang out across California this week, as President Obama made fundraising appearances in Silicon Valley, San Diego, and Hollywood, didn't quite drown out the "thud" that has marked his dramatic drop in Golden State polls.

For the first time since Mr. Obama assumed office, fewer than half of California voters (46 percent) approve of his overall performance, according to a mid-September Field poll. Those who disapprove now stand at 44 percent.

It appears, at first blush, to be a potentially dire development for Obama. California and its 55 electoral votes have been solidly Democratic for a generation - the last Republican presidential candidate to win the state was George Bush in 1988. Losing California in 2012 would likely be fatal to Obama's reelection bid, and even having it in play could force Obama to spend time and money defending Democratic home turf.

But a closer look suggests that California is perhaps not as decisive as it might seem, experts say. With Democrats holding every statewide office here, recent history suggests Californians rally around Democrats when election day comes. And if Obama were to lose California, experts add, it would likely be only in a landslide scenario, where California would not be pivotal, but rather an emphatic punctuation.

What California does show is the urgent need for Obama to reverse his fortunes during the next year, says Matthew Kerbel, a political scientist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "The Field poll numbers reflect what we're seeing nationwide - a steep drop in Obama's job approval reflecting the state of the economy and frustration over Washington's inability to do anything about it," he adds.

Only three months ago, Californians approved of the job Obama was doing by 54 percent to 37 percent, according to the Field poll. Yet most analysts are loath to suggest that California is now up for grabs. Indeed, they still say any Republican presidential victory here would have to be a political perfect storm.

"The race will be competitive in California only if the GOP can unite and give full voter and financial support to the eventual GOP presidential candidate," says political commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson. "That means a massive voter turnout among GOP voters. If that happens, the economy continues to stagnate, and the president continues to sink in approval ratings, and there is genuine disaffection or lethargy in the top heavy Democratic voter base, the president could be in trouble in the state."

Several recent election reforms could make the electorate harder to gauge in 2012. For example, a new nonpartisan redistricting committee has shaken up electoral maps, meaning that some districts may not be as reliably partisan as they have been in the past. …

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