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Boxer Rebounds to Gain Advantage Over Fong in California State Race

By Mark Z. Barabak
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has reversed her fortunes, buffed her image and pulled slightly ahead of California Treasurer Matt Fong just 11 days before the election, according to a new Los Angeles Times Poll.

Enjoying some of the highest job approval and personal favorability ratings of her six years in office, Democrat Boxer leads Republican Fong by 5 points, 49 percent to 44 percent, among those considered likely to vote on Nov. 3. A month ago, Boxer was trailing Fong by 5 percent among likely voters.

At the same time, Boxer's bare 49 percent means she can scarcely afford to breathe easy these next 11 days, particularly in a so-called off-year - or nonpresidential - election, when conservatives voters have tended to turn out more reliably.

She barely won in 1992, her first statewide campaign, with 48 percent of the vote. For an incumbent, reaching 50 percent is an important threshold, because anything less suggests fertile ground for a challenger.

Still, Boxer's lead represents a significant rebound from her position just a few weeks ago.

The Democrat evidently reversed her position in the seesaw contest through a series of hard-hitting, and largely unanswered, TV commercials targeting Fong's stance on gun control, abortion and HMO reform - ads that appear to have solidified Boxer's support among two groups crucial to her re-election prospects: women and moderate voters.

While Fong is ahead 52 percent to 41 percent among likely male voters, Boxer holds a 56 percent to 37 percent lead among women, who constitute a majority of the state electorate and proved indispensible to her election six years ago. Seventeen percent of Republican women most likely to vote are crossing party lines.

And while both candidates are generally holding on to their partisan bases, Boxer leads Fong among self-described middle-of-the-road likely voters, 62 percent to 26 percent.

Moreover, Boxer seems to have benefited from receding attention to the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, which consumed the media for months, drowned out most talk of issues and pointed up her close personal and political ties to President Clinton.

The poll surveyed 1,449 registered voters Oct. 17-21. Among them, 883 were deemed likely to vote.

Geographically, Boxer holds commanding leads in the Democratic bastions of the San Francisco Bay Area, 66 percent to 29 percent, and Los Angeles, 54 percent to 38 percent, while Fong was ahead in the more conservative Central Valley, 56 percent to 40 percent, and in Republican strongholds of Southern California outside of Los Angeles County, 55 percent to 34 percent.