Last Shot: Candidates Lay Out Their Closing Arguments In CA-SEN

June 2, 2010 1:29 p.m.

Carly Fiorina has money to burn. Former Rep. Tom Campbell has poll numbers. Assemblyman Chuck DeVore has neither, but he’s got heart. So goes the closing arguments of the hard-fought California Republican Senate primary. Will public polls showing it’s now Fiorina’s race to lose, the two men who once seemed destined to keep Fiorina out of Washington are now scrambling to make in impact in the final days before the June 8 primary.

Campbell, who was once the frontrunner, has taken a spectacular fall from grace. Penniless, the man who won his party’s Senate nomination ten years ago now can’t afford TV ads in the primary’s final days. DeVore, a Jim DeMint-backed conservative who started the race with visions of becoming the Marco Rubio to Fiorina’s Charlie Crist, told me today about “keeping the fire going” among his remaining volunteers.

For her part, Fiorina has already left the primary behind. Up by double digits in the latest polls, she’s turned her attention — and considerable fortune — to attacking Sen. Barbara Boxer. Her Republican opponents say that’s the problem.“I think the narrative will rapidly corrode shortly after the primary if she wins,” DeVore told me today. While the other two candidates are criss-crossing the state in a final push toward the primary, DeVore is in Sacramento casting votes in the General Assembly. Though he’s pledged to to endorse whichever candidate wins the nomination, DeVore says he’s still skeptical about Fiorina beating Boxer in the fall.

In a column published on the conservative Flash Report website this week, DeVore’s campaign spelled out in intricate detail all the reasons DeVore’s supporters think Fiorina will crash and burn in November. Long story short: There are a myriad of less-than-savory stories about Fiorina’s time as the CEO of HP that DeVore says Democrats can use to easily destroy the credentials she’s been spending a fortune to build on TV lately.

DeVore called the piece “an indictment.” I asked him if he thought Fiorina’s baggage could lead California Republicans into a brier patch like the one Kentucky Republicans found themselves in the days after they nominated Rand Paul.

“I don’t think it will be one single firestorm,” DeVore said. “I’m picturing a long, slow trainwreck.”

DeVore said that Republicans in the state would be wise to look beyond Fiorina’s personal wealth, which he said has seduced Republicans afraid of facing the well-financed Boxer into supporting Fiorina.

“What’s frustrated me about people supporting Fiorina is that they’re looking at all sizzle and no steak,” he told me.

Campbell is pushing a similar line, though from an opposite perspective. DeVore says his brand of tea party-supported conservatism makes him the “best contrast” to Boxer, while Campbell is pointing to poll numbers that suggest his moderate views — he’s pro-choice for example — make him a better opponent for Boxer with a general electorate. (Of course without the money for TV ads, he’s relegated to making that case in a series of web videos.)

Which is not to say DeVore doesn’t think he can win — he just recognizes that it would be quite an upset if he does. Polls show him consistently pulling about 15% of the vote heading toward the primary. DeVore said the knock-down, drag-out negative ad brawl between Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman in the Republican primary for Governor will drag down GOP turnout on June 8, allowing him to leverage his grassroots base to sneak out a win.

“We’re focusing on ensuring the volunteers are properly inspired,” DeVore said when I asked him how he’s spending the last days of the campaign. “I need to make sure they appreciate what a good turnout could mean.”

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