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Poll shows California is a hard sell for 'tea party' movement

April 5, 2010 |  2:47 pm

"Tea party" conservatives have captured the political momentum so far this year in Republican primaries nationwide. In Florida, for example, the sitting governor, Charlie Crist, has fallen well behind a tea party favorite, Marco Rubio, in the race for a U.S. Senate seat. But in California, the closest thing to a tea party candidate, Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, has languished in distant third place in the running for the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat.

Both former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and former Congressman Tom Campbell have consistently outpaced DeVore. A new Los Angeles Times/USC poll may explain why. Asked if it was important for their candidate to be a "true conservative" -- DeVore's definition, by any standard -- Republican primary voters edged against that notion. Fifty-one percent said it was only somewhat or not at all important, while a lesser 46% said it was extremely or very important.

Asked separately whether their nominee should be conservative -- or, alternately, more centrist candidates who could appeal broadly in November -- Republican primary voters also showed signs of pragmatism. Forty-six percent sided with a more centrist candidate, while 42% said conservative. The poll showed that Boxer is in better shape than some earlier surveys had suggested, and that she stands to benefit from the recently-approved healthcare bill. Against a generic Republican, Boxer had a comfortable lead. Campbell led Whitman on the GOP side, 29% to 25%, with DeVore at 9%.

In the race for governor, Republican Meg Whitman was trouncing her primary opponent, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. And the former EBay chief had a narrow lead on the presumptive Democratic nominee, former governor and current Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown. In both races, nonpartisan voters -- those who register as "decline-to-state" in California -- were flexing their muscles. In the general election they were siding with Whitman, and in the Senate contest they were loyal to Boxer. The poll results are available here.

-- Cathleen Decker