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Sheep and Goats

In the regular political column I write for the Progressive Policy Institute over at ProgressiveFix, I observed today that we are getting to the point where all the speculation about individual 2010 contests will begin to yield to hard data, and the actual battlegrounds will emerge.

A good example of how that might be happening is provided by new polls from PPP of two Senate races that have been ostensibly very similar, in WI and CA. In both of these blue states well-regarded but always-vunerable progressive Democratic U.S. senators are under attack from amply-financed Republican "newcomers."

But according to PPP, Russ Feingold is suddenly in deep trouble against Ron Johnson, while Barbara Boxer is expanding her lead against Carly Fiorina. Both these polls represent a shift by PPP from registered voter to likely voter samples, making the trends interesting measurements of the so-called "enthusiasm gap" afflicting Democrats.

According to an account by its partner DailyKos, PPP finds the "enthusiasm gap" in WI to be "one of the most severe" in the country, with Johnson's 1-point lead among 2008 voters ballooning to 11 points among likely 2010 voters.

But in California, Boxer's 49-40 lead among RVs in July is a virtually unchanged 50-41 lead among likely voters today. More specifically, Boxer's support among Democrats remains very strong, and as PPP's Tom Jensen notes:

[T]he simple reality is that Fiorina has not proven to be a particularly appealing candidate to California voters. 42% of them see her unfavorably with only 34% rating her positively. Republicans like her, Democrats dislike her almost as much, and independents are slightly negative toward her. Again, not the formula that's going to get a Republican elected to the Senate from California.

One other factor that should be noted here is that Boxer is just about the only vulnerable Democrat seeking reelection in a state where the majority of voters still approve of Barack Obama's performance. His approval is 53/42, and by and large the folks that like Obama are supporting Boxer- California's one of the last frontiers left where he's not a drag.

Interestingly, PPP also shows Jerry Brown leading Meg Whitman among likely voters by a 47-42 margin in the CA governor's race, even though Brown is just now getting around to running television ads.

Now it may be that PPP's current polling in either WI or CA could prove to be an outlier; it happens to all pollsters on occasion. It's also true that Russ Feingold has a habit of getting into trouble in his re-election campaigns, only to eventually recover and win.

But whether or not these two races in particular are examples, we should soon begin to see disparities in the host of "close races" we've all been watching, and separate the sheep from the goats.