As the midterm campaign season picks up, many observers have pointed to California as a state that could be ripe for a Tea Party takeover. Surveying the landscape in February, Washington Post columnist George Will declared that Chuck DeVore, an Orange County assemblyman backed by Sen. Jim DeMint and Tea Party groups, would win the Republican nomination and take on Sen. Barbara Boxer in November. DeVore would win the primary, Will argued, because DeVore is the most conservative candidate in the race. And in 2010, voters won’t settle for anything less.
Well, maybe not. According to the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll, 46 percent of likely California Republican primary voters said they’d prefer a “centrist” candidate, while just 42 percent said they’d like a “conservative” candidate. Those preferences are exemplified by support for individual candidates: Moderate former congressman Tom Campbell—immortalized as a “Fiscal Conservative in Name Only,” demonic ungulate in a February ad by rival Carly Fiorina—leads the three-way race with 29 percent. After 16 months on the trail, Will’s favorite DeVore has the support of just 9 percent of voters.
The Tea Party movement is very real, and its significance really shouldn’t be glossed over; its impact will be felt on plenty of races nationwide this November. But the California race is hardly an outlier. It’s worth keeping in mind that any Republican landslide is likely going to sweep in with it a new cohort of certified moderates like Scott Brown and (maybe) Tom Campbell. Whether that new class will be any easier to work with than the current edition remains to be seen, of course, but there’s at least some reason for optimism.