Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, September 24, 2010

Although her job performance ratings are at an all-time low, Sen. Barbara Boxer has increased her lead over Republican challenger Carly Fiorina in California’s U.S. Senate race, with the three-term incumbent leading the former Hewlett-Packard CEO 47 to 41 percent, according to a Field Poll released today.

Boxer’s support has remained the same since the last Field survey on the race in July, while Fiorina’s backing dipped three percentage points. More voters are undecided, the new poll found, increasing to 12 percent from 9 percent two months ago.

The statewide survey, taken Sept. 14-21, reflected strong anti-incumbent frustration building before the Nov. 2 election: Nearly two-thirds of Fiorina’s supporters say their preference is more of a vote against Boxer than a choice for the former HP executive.

Just 29 percent of Boxer voters say their preference is based on their negative feelings for Fiorina.

The poll also found that 47 percent of likely voters disapprove of Boxer’s job performance, her highest rating in that category in the nearly two decades that Field has measured that sentiment.

“This is all about Boxer,” Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said. He attributed Boxer’s rise in the polls to the fact that “she started campaigning.”

Boxer has been running TV advertisements since Sept. 13, simultaneously touting her three terms in the Senate while pounding Fiorina for laying off 30,000 workers while she was at Hewlett-Packard and for sending many jobs overseas.

Fiorina ads

On Thursday, Fiorina began her fall TV campaign, which she hopes will stoke voter antipathy toward Boxer. Her first ad features a well-circulated video clip of Boxer at a Senate hearing telling Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh to call her “senator” instead of “ma’am.” Boxer tells the general, “I worked so hard to get that title.”

“Twenty-eight years in Washington and Barbara Boxer works hard for a title?” Fiorina says in her new ad, looking straight into the camera. “I’ll really go to work. To end the arrogance in Washington.”

But Fiorina has work to do before she gets to Washington. Unlike former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican in a dead heat with Democrat Jerry Brown in the governor’s race, Fiorina hasn’t made significant in-roads in traditional Democratic voting blocs – particularly Latinos and residents of Los Angeles.

At the same time, Fiorina, the first woman to head a Fortune 20 company, is cutting into Boxer’s traditional advantage among female voters, trailing the Democratic incumbent by just six points, 46 to 40 percent.

By contrast, Republican Matt Fong trailed Boxer among women by 12 percentage points at a similar juncture in the 1998 Senate campaign, according to Field.

“We’re in a very different political climate right now, where the voters are frustrated with the pace of the economic recovery,” said Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski. “And they’re expressing that skepticism toward incumbents.”

But Fiorina has a different challenge: Twenty-eight percent of voters have no opinion of her just 39 days before the election. And many of those who do, the poll found, are not enthused.

Unhappy voters

“I’m voting for Fiorina, but I’m not real happy about it,” said Janet Runge of Pleasant Hill, a registered Republican who is considering changing her party affiliation to decline-to-state. “But I can’t stand Boxer.”

Rudolph Berneike, a Republican from Milpitas, said he plans to hold his nose and vote for Boxer, even though he isn’t fond of Democrats.

“Fiorina is a corrupt executive who sent 30,000 jobs overseas,” Berneike said. “She is a classic robber baron.”

The poll also found that a significant proportion of voters – 41 percent – identify at least somewhat with the Tea Party movement, which is anti-tax and espouses smaller government. Those voters align overwhelmingly behind Fiorina, the poll found.

“Tea Party voters are likely voters, they’re energized,” DiCamillo said. However, he pointed out that 59 percent of voters – a large majority – don’t identify with the Tea Party.

To read entire story, click here.