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In California there are roughly two million more Democrats than Republicans, and the state has drifted to the left since the last time a Republican won the state in a presidential contest (George Bush 41 in 1988).

In a year when Republicans nationally are in a close fight, one would expect the Democrats’ outlook in California to look better than the national scene, but the reverse is true.

By all accounts Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is running between 10 and 17 points ahead of his Democrat rival, state Treasurer Phil Angelides. Yesterday I spent some time in the Sacramento airport talking to a pollster friend of mine who confirmed this. (BTW, it’s closer to the 17 than the 10).

An analysis of the numbers shows that the wide gap favoring the governor is due in part to the fact that he has solidified the support of Republicans, while Angelides’ base is soft, with only about 65 percent of the members of his own party currently supporting him. You can confirm these numbers yourself by checking the most recent Field Poll and PPIC poll results.

Given that Angelides is a pretty liberal partisan whose positions on issues reflect the core of the Democrat Party, his inability to solidify has base is both a surprise and a significant problem for his team. It means he will have to continue to lean left in an effort to secure his base at precisely the time he should be reaching for the center to capture a majority.

By contrast, Governor Schwarzenegger has the support of 90+ percent of Republicans. With his base in tact, he can reach for independent and conservative Democrat voters in solidifying his majority.

The Angelides campaign shows all the signs of expending considerable resources trying to firm up and excite his base. His website features some kind of “Bush buddy” doll of the governor. I’m surprised to find them still trying to stoke the base with the tactic of trying to link the governor to President Bush. Angelides has already tried this twice – first with an ad trying to link the two, and later with his claiming he would try to force the return of California National Guard troops from Iraq -a constitutionally questionable attempt to stoke the anti-war base of the party. Neither of these messages had any effect on voter opinion – the governor’s lead remained solid after the Bush ad ran and after the announcement on Angelides’ Iraq foreign policy.

Confirming Angelides’ problems, the Los Angeles Times ran a story this week on how the downticket statewide Democrat candidates are publicly distancing themselves from Angelides. Here’s an excerpt:

Worried Democrats said Sunday that Phil Angelides failed to achieve the breakthrough he needed in the sole gubernatorial debate and expressed fear that his campaign’s trajectory threatened others on the statewide ticket.

Fellow Democrat John Garamendi, in a tight race for lieutenant governor against Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock, has started to distance himself from Angelides. He said in a television interview aired Sunday that he disagreed with an Angelides plan to raise taxes on corporations and the well-to-do.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Garamendi, now insurance commissioner, said on KNBC’s “News Conference.”

As noted in my posting earlier today, voting has already begun. With each day that passes, a smaller and smaller portion of the electorate becomes available for Angelides to persuade in order to change the election’s outcome.

RON NEHRING

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