Given the stakes, you’d think the Republicans would be doing more to defeat Sen. Barbara Boxer.
“If Boxer goes, so goes the Senate, that’s the conventional wisdom” notes political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California.
But while the National Republican Senator Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have shelled out more than $7 million on campaign commercials critical of Boxer, that pales in comparison to the tens of millions GOP interests are spending in other races across the country.
In Colorado, a state seven times smaller than California, special interests have poured in more than $12 million to take down incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett.
A similar amount has gone to oppose Democratic Sen. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania. GOP-friendly independent spending in Missouri, Nevada, Illinois and Washington state also substantially exceeds the amount of national funds going to attack Boxer.
“California isn’t really a priority for the Republicans even though they are spending millions there,” said Paul Blumenthal, a senior writer for the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation, which is tracking the independent expenditures.
And yet, despite the lack of national Republican money, the race remains close.
While Boxer has lead her Republican opponent, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, for months, the margin has always been close, often within the statistical margin of error.
A Rasmussen poll released Friday, for example, showed Boxer leading Fiorina by three points. The poll had a four part margin of error.
Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science at the University of California at Irvine, said the fact that California's Senate race has stayed so close for so long is because neither “Boxer nor Fiorina has been able to offer a compelling message to voters as to what they’d bring to Washington. Neither has been very good on the stump.”
DeSipio believes Boxer missed her chance to pull ahead of Fiorina by ignoring the state’s Latino voters, whose over-whelming support for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jerry Brown helped him build a commanding lead over Republican Meg Whitman.
“Jerry was out there from the beginning talking about how he marched with Caesar Chavez, building a narrative,” DeSipio said.
“Boxer,” he said, “never really made the effort, and the result has been less movement in the Latino community toward Boxer than Brown.”
But, Jeffe, of USC, believes “Barbara Boxer’s message on the tube is resonating with voters. They are painting Fiorina as this bloodless CEO who outsourced jobs and laid off 30,000 people. These ads are more powerful than Fiorina’s ads at Boxer.”
Ultimately, Jeffe said, the Boxer-Fiorina race, and the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, will likely come down to turnout.
And she says both Boxer and Fiorina appear to have outsourced their get out-the-voter operations to outside sources. Boxer is depending on organized labor, Jeffe said, while Fiorina seems to be leaning on the self-financed Whitman, who is spending millions to boost GOP turnout.
A new Field Poll released Tuesday predicted that approximately 9.5 million California voters will cast ballots this election year. Approximately 44 percent of likely voters are Democrats, 39 percent are Republicans, and 17 percent are independents.
Likely voters are also predicted to be older and whiter than the overall voter rolls. Ethnic voters, who comprise 36 percent of registered voters in California, will likely comprise 29 percent of voters in today’s election, according to Field.