By Rob Hotakainen
rhotakainen@mcclatchydc.com
Published: Saturday, May. 29, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

WASHINGTON – Angry at politicians and deeply disillusioned about the future, California’s GOP voters are clearly in an anti-establishment mood. But they will have little chance to express it in the June 8 election, experts say.

“The sentiment is genuine, but it doesn’t have an obvious outlet,” said Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont-McKenna College.

Despite their claims to the contrary, the candidates seeking to become governor or senator are all political or corporate insiders. In the 100 districts where legislative seats are up for grabs this year, experts expect nothing but sleeper contests.

“I see no sign that this anti-establishment thing is going to have an effect in any race,” said Tony Quinn, editor of the California Target Book, which analyzes state and federal races. “I cannot think of a single incumbent in either party who is threatened in this primary for the Legislature.”

Consider the lineup of GOP candidates for senator: Carly Fiorina, corporate insider; Tom Campbell, former congressman; and Chuck DeVore, current assemblyman and former corporate executive.

And in the governor’s race: Meg Whitman, another corporate insider; and Steve Poizner, state insurance commissioner.

“Everybody’s claiming to be an outsider, and when everybody’s an outsider, nobody is,” Pitney said. “It’s pretty evident they’re not.”

The state’s Republicans appear to be in a particularly snarly mood as they prepare to nominate their candidates.

“California today is ground zero for the anxiety and angst that most Americans have,” said Fernand Amandi, executive vice president of Bendixen & Amandi, a Florida-based public opinion research firm.

“I’ve never seen such discontent articulated in one state, at really historic levels,” he said. “It’s just a dark, hostile, angry environment.”

California’s woes have been well-documented in recent years: Faced with high unemployment, a multitude of home foreclosures and lower property values, the state is grappling with a multibillion-dollar budget hole. With voters reluctant to raise taxes, government services are suffering.

GOP voters sent a loud message of discontent in a poll released by the Public Policy Institute of California last week: 76 percent said bad economic times are ahead, 81 percent disapproved of Congress and 75 percent disapproved of President Barack Obama.

“The anti-establishment mood is huge,” said Mark Baldassare, president and chief executive officer of the institute.

“The real struggle that Republican voters are having is how to best send a message that they are extremely unhappy with the status quo. And whoever is able to figure out a way to convince the voters that they’ve got the way to send the message, they’re going to be the ones who succeed.”

Mark DiCamillo, director of the nonpartisan Field Poll, said more than 60 percent of GOP voters now identify “a lot” or “some” with the tea party, which he said is “coalescing around a very anti-incumbent mood.”

“The most sour of voters are the tea party activists,” he said. “They have the bleakest outlook about the economy, about the direction of the country, about most of the elected officials.”

Amandi said the “profound level” of discontent is showing up in every segment of the population: the wealthiest, the poorest, the upwardly mobile, the working class and the highly and lowly educated. He said Californians have suffered “a double whammy,” with the national economic downturn and the state’s budget crisis.

“Incumbents beware,” he said. “That’s the political take-away. It’s frustration with the way government works – period. It’s almost a perfect storm of negativity.”

With less than two weeks remaining in the race, candidates are trying to capitalize on voters’ pessimism, making sure their campaign messages match the mood. But it’s unclear who, if anyone, might benefit on election day.

“I think it’s the big wild card right now,” DeVore said. “It’s really hard to tell how this lands.”

In the U.S. Senate race, the candidates with political experience are playing it down as they bid to take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in November. The corporate candidate is claiming fresh-face status.

“We’re definitely the outsiders here,” said Amy Thoma, a spokeswoman for Fiorina. “And she’s the only candidate in this race who has created a job or met a payroll.”

Some political experts say 2010 will be much like other election years, with incumbents winning most races.

Nathan Gonzalez, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, noted that incumbents so far this year have won 124 of 127 primaries, a 98 percent winning rate.

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