Skelton: Despite state issues, voters want Newsom as governor

Most California voters think the state is going in the wrong direction, but they intend to re-elect the governor who is taking us there. That seems wrong thinking.

But it is explained by two modern realities. Political polarization has swept across America. And in California, most voters have lost all faith in the Republican Party. They will choose almost any Democrat over a GOP candidate, especially for statewide office.

That and the fact that there are almost twice as many Democratic voters as Republicans. Both parties are polarized, but it’s a one-sided matchup.

That was illustrated in a statewide poll released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

With less than two weeks until Election Day, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom leads Republican Senator Brian Dahle among the likely voters by a virtually insurmountable 55% to 36%. Newsom is ahead in every major region in the state except for the Central Valley, where the two are statistically tied.

More voters intend to vote for Newsom than endorse his work, although the difference is not that big – 3 percentage points.

But another statistic is telling: 54% of voters think California is “going in the wrong direction.” Only 43% believe we are on the right track.

Still, Newsom is running away with the election.

“For me, one of the biggest takeaways from the poll was that even at a time when 54% of voters believe the state is going in the wrong direction, the majority are willing to support the governor,” said Mark Baldassare, president by PPIC and pollsters.

“That says a lot about the current political context. Voters are so polarized in California.”

Previous generations of Californians have voted for the candidate over the party. No longer.

The Democratic governor dominates politically in many things.

His decision to side with the California Teachers Assn. and defying Proposition 30 may have doomed this voting action.

It would increase state income taxes on California’s wealthiest, primarily to help motorists buy electric vehicles — including drivers for ride-sharing business Lyft, the measure’s big bankroller. The powerful CTA opposes it because schools would be cut off from the measure’s new tax revenue.

Newsom ran TV ads, calling Proposition 30 “a Trojan horse” and a “terrible, horrible initiative.”

The new PPIC poll shows a lag for the first time – 41% in favour, 52% against. A September poll ahead of Newsom’s ads found the measure 55% to 40% ahead.

“In a voting proposal, the burden of proof is always on the yes side,” notes Baldassare. “Of course, when the governor says, ‘Don’t vote for it, doubts arise.’ And the CTA says, ‘Don’t vote for it.’

“It doesn’t take much for a voter to say, ‘Someone is trying to fool me. I’m not an expert on this. Nah, I’ll wait until next time for something with more clarity.’”

On another front, Newsom was strong enough to invent the pathetic apology for the campaign’s only gubernatorial debate. Little planning influence was granted by his Republican opponent.

The timing was almost ridiculous: 1 p.m. on a beautiful fall Sunday. When voters weren’t enjoying themselves outside, they were probably watching pro football on TV.

Newsom, of course, wanted to make sure no one was watching the debate. So he dictated that it be aired on the radio at a time when virtually nobody was tuning in. C-SPAN ran a delayed dinner telecast.

It’s the time-honoured, if disgusting, political strategy: if you’re high in the polls, you don’t risk voters watching you say something really stupid during a debate. And don’t give your unknown opponent, who can’t afford TV commercials, a chance to introduce himself to voters.

“I’ve always wanted to start a debate on Oscars night,” says Dan Schnur, a former Republican who teaches political communications at USC and UC Berkeley.

“Believe Newsom’s credit, he’s about 1,000 points clear and he probably could have gotten away with not debating at all.”

Cord, like several political pros I called, didn’t bother to follow the debate. That’s how important they thought it was.

One Republican advisor who listened while watching the San Francisco 49ers play was Matt Rexroad.

“I actually think Newsom did pretty well,” he says. “He was always on point. There is no lack of facts.”

Yes, Newsom is uniquely able to store a ton of data on a hard drive in his head and breathlessly spit it out non-stop. It’s impressive, but often painful when trying to digest it.

Newsom attempted to turn Dahle into a MAGA Trump aide. He called his underdog opponent a “passionate supporter” of the former president, who is the devil incarnate among California Democrats.

A Trump voter, yes, but never with any sign of passion.

Dahle attacked Newsom as governor so busy running for president that he ignores his own state’s problems of homelessness and unaffordability.

Newsom has flown around the country, promoting California liberalism — specifically abortion rights — and trying to gain a foothold in the national arena. But I doubt he’s running for President now.

If there was any news from the debate, it came when a moderator asked Newsom if he would commit to serving a full four-year term, missing out on a possible presidential bid in 2024.

“Yes,” replied the governor.

But we’ve heard that from other politicians. It’s a promise that can easily be broken without much penalty.

Ask Newsom again in a year – after he was re-elected, even though people are unhappy with the direction the state is taking. Skelton: Despite state issues, voters want Newsom as governor

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