Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Coy in California

California prides itself on setting trends for the nation. This week, it may be the state that bucks the trend if it decides to abstain from a multi-state and federal settlement with the big banks on mortgage abuses.

States must say by the end of this week whether they are in or out of the deal and California is very much in doubt. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is concerned the banks may get off too easily. Just last week, her people were calling the settlement “inadequate.”

But can she afford to walk away from more than $10 billion that homeowners could collect in her state, where the housing crisis has ravaged communities from Stockton to San Diego? And would she be able to get more for them if she went it alone?

It’s hard to say. But the other states are working hard to convince California to come along. And the Obama administration, in need of a victory on the housing front in this election year, wants that large, trend-setting state on the Left Coast to join. A deal for the nation isn’t so good (or national for that matter) without California.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

States to decide this week on mortgage deal

State and federal officials are close to a settlement with the largest banks over mortgage abuses, with states facing an end-of-the-week deadline to decide whether they will sign on, people close to the talks said. The final value of any settlement will depend on which states it includes, and could drop sharply if states like California, one of the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, do not join.

Former “start-up” Obama wouldn’t mind being as popular as…SpongeBob

obama_sanfranHe’s been president of the United States for about two-and-a-half  years, but Barack Obama still remembers being a “start-up” — and he wouldn’t mind being as popular as SpongeBob SquarePants.

The Democratic president, who is in the middle of a road show to sell his ideas for cutting the deficit, spent the evening in San Francisco on Wednesday raising money for his campaign, and he targeted tech-savvy donors who had started successful companies of their own.

“Some of you are involved in start-ups, well I was a start-up just not so long ago,” Obama told a dinner fundraiser at the home of Marc Benioff, the chief executive of salesforce.com.

California negative ad throwdown

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Sarah McBride takes a look at the campaign ads in the California race.

California’s gubernatorial frontrunner Jerry Brown pledged Tuesday to remove all negative ads one week before the November 2 election, but only if his rival went along. Meg Whitman, the billionaire Republican with a big self-financed campaign, wasn’t willing to go quite that far.

At first, neither candidate seemed crazy about the proposal from Matt Lauer, moderator of the candidates’ on-stage conversation at the annual Women’s Conference in Long Beach, with current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, sitting in the middle. As the audience clapped and cheered at the suggestion, the two hopefuls sat stonefaced on stage, their hands motionless in their laps.

“Sometimes negativity was in the eye of the beholder,” said Brown. But perhaps remembering his lead in the polls, he quickly turned generous and said he would if Whitman would.

Boxer votes early, like a good Californian

POLITICS-USA/Election day may be nearly a month off, but U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer wasn’t confused, or cheating, when she went to the polls on Tuesday to vote (presumably for herself).  The three-term Democrat was just following what has become something of a time-honored practice for many Californians: early voting.

In fact, more than 41 percent of California voters voted by mail, or absentee, during the 2008 general election, a number that has risen nearly every year since the 1978, and Boxer’s camp says the Senator — who is facing the toughest reelection fight of her career against former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina – was using it as a tool to increase voter participation.

Boxer, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, lives with her husband in Rancho Mirage, California, near Palm Springs, and cast her ballot at the Riverside County Registrar’s Office.

Aide to rival calls California’s Whitman a ‘whore’

USA-ELECTIONS/CALIFORNIAUSA-ELECTIONS/CALIFORNIACalifornia’s personal and unpleasant governor’s race just took another step toward the bottom as a tape emerged in which an aide to Democrat Jerry Brown calls Republican Meg Whitman a “whore” for her attempts to get endorsements from law enforcement.

The Los Angeles Times was given the tape of an answering machine message from Brown to a law enforcement group. Brown apparently didn’t hang up, and so a private conversation was captured on tape. The Times’ blog is here, with the audio tape is at the bottom or here.

The governor’s race is nearly tied — Brown’s taken a small lead recently — and it is nasty, thanks to a fight over Whitman’s hiring of an illegal immigrant housekeeper. Brown, the maverick and former governor running for another try at the top job, says she’s not taking the type of responsibility that she should, given her position that employers should be held accountable for hiring illegal workers. She calls that a lie and says she didn’t know her housekeeper was in the United States illegally until the woman confessed — and Whitman says she’s willing to take a lie detector test.

GOP, conservatives seen dominating November turnout

USA-POLITICS/Bad news, Democrats.

The crowd most likely to vote on Nov. 2 is a lot more Republican and a lot more conservative than the one that gave Congress to the GOP in 1994.

So says a new Gallup survey that forecasts Republican and conservative majorities at polling stations for the congressional mid-term elections.

Fifty-seven percent of people who call themselves likely voters are Republican or lean Republican, while 54 percent are conservative, according to Gallup.

Washington Extra – Trump cards

The “enthusiasm gap” was always the Democrats’ biggest problem heading into the November midterm elections, and conversely also their biggest hope. votersDemocrats have told poll after poll they were less likely to vote than their Republican counterparts. If only Democrats could enthuse their supporters, strategists have been hoping, then maybe the party could still trump the Republicans in some tight races.

So the Democrats will be pleased today with the results of our latest Reuters/Ipsos poll from California, which not only shows their candidates leading in the race for the Senate and the governor’s office, but also shows that enthusiasm gap narrowing slightly. Some 75 percent of Democrats now say they are certain to vote, up from 60 percent in June. Comparative numbers for Republicans are 83 percent now, up from 73 percent in June.

This tends to support evidence from other polls that the enthusiasm gap could be closing, giving Democrats a flicker of hope of avoiding a rout, as political correspondent John Whitesides reported last Friday. Add to that, some evidence from an ABC/Washington Post poll that voters are losing their enthusiasm for Tea Party candidates, and things are looking a little less grim for the Dems this evening.

Reuters-Ipsos poll: Democrats hold slim leads in California races

Democrats are leading in top California races a month before the election, but by margins too tight to offer great comfort.

USA-POLITICS/Senator Barbara Boxer leads Republican challenger Carly Fiorina in the Senate race 49-45 percent among POLITICS-USA/likely voters, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll conducted Oct. 2-4.

That 4-point difference is smaller than the 4.7 percentage point margin of error which shows how close the race is between the three-term senator and the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Ipsos pollsters say it is unlikely, with the higher margin of error and all, that the findings were reverse. Boxer has consistently had a lead over Fiorina in public opinion polls.

Gay marriage ruling has California, and Democrat Jerry Brown’s Twitter feed, buzzing

Democrat Jerry Brown has long been an outspoken critic of California’s ban on same-sex marriages,  even refusing to Jerry_Browndefend the voter approved law known as Proposition 8  in court in his role as California’s attorney general  – a move that won the hearts of gay and civil rights activists even as it raised eyebrows among legal scholars .

So before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker even ruled on Thursday that gay marriages can resume next week, while those who oppose them appeal his earlier decision finding the ban unconstitutional, Jerry Brown the candidate for governor was Tweeting out his support:

“Hoping Judge Walker will allow same-sex couples in CA to marry while the Prop 8 case appeal is pending. We should find out before noon,” Brown (or someone on his staff) Tweeted about two hours before the ruling.

In California, no voting bloc is safe

First Republican Meg Whitman, a political novice running for California governor, seemed to catch her Democratic opponent, MegJerry Brown, napping with an aggressive early push for Latino voters –  a voting bloc that has proven tough for her party to crack.  

Whitman has run a series of Spanish-language TV commercials and billboards that, according to the latest p0lls, paid off with a 14-point gain among Latinos – despite the still simmering furor over a crackdown on illegal immigrants in neighborhing Arizona that was signed into law by Republican  Governor Jan Brewer.

Brown, the state’s attorney general and a veteran California politician who served as California governor from 1975 to 1983, has been criticized within his party for being slow to respond and taking the Latino vote for granted.