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GOP voters seem unpersuaded by anti-Israel accusations aimed at Campbell

March 18, 2010 |  1:15 pm

Campbell Former Rep. Tom Campbell, one of three Republican candidates vying to replace Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer later this year, took plenty of heat from his GOP rivals last month over his allegedly soft support for Israel (Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center went so far as to say that some of Campbell's votes as a congressman "send real alarms that this is someone who maybe doesn't ... fully support a strong ongoing relationship with the state of Israel"). In Republican -- and some would say Democratic -- politics, lock-step support for the Jewish state is something of a third rail; declaring that a candidate has an "Israel problem" can derail a campaign in a hurry.

The Times' editorial board examined Campbell's voting record and wrote in a Feb. 27 editorial, on the question of whether it indicates he's an anti-Semite or soft on terrorism, "So far, we're not persuaded." Neither are the state's Republican voters, according to a new Field Poll. The Sacramento Bee reported Thursday:

Former Rep. Tom Campbell has a six-point lead over his closest challenger in the three-way Republican primary to face Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose popularity has significantly eroded in the past two months, according to a Field Poll released today.

The survey found Campbell leading former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina 28 percent to 22 percent among likely Republican voters in the June 8 primary, while Assemblyman Chuck DeVore had support from 9 percent. But most prospective GOP voters, roughly 40 percent, were undecided.

While Boxer's races have historically been sleepy affairs, the poll indicates that Californians could be in for a barnburner this year. Boxer is in a statistical tie in trial matchups with both Campbell and Fiorina. In January, she had substantial double-digit percentage-point leads over all three GOP challengers.

Campbell's front-runner status may be due in part to the fact that most of us are not yet paying much attention, but it's still somewhat remarkable that he's polling ahead of Fiorina considering he was still mulling a gubernatorial bid while the former Hewlett-Packard CEO's campaign was months underway.

This is not to say the anti-Israel accusations will never resurface in the campaign, even beyond a GOP primary victory for Campbell. Boxer, who is seeking her fourth term as senator, faced in 1998 a strong Republican opponent in the form of Matt Fong. She ended up winning reelection by a comfortable margin, but in the weeks preceding election day Fong still posed a viable threat. Shrewdly, the incumbent ran TV ads portraying Fong as an anti-environmentalist who'd expose your kids to toxic waste and super-imposing a faint nuclear radiation warning sign over a menacing image of her opponent (I can't find a clip online, but the spot was ridiculous enough to burn itself into my memory). Imagine the possibilities for an opponent accused of harboring an anti-Israel bias.

Last year, Campbell held down one side of an online debate for The Times on fixing California's budgeting process. He fleshed out in some detail -- the kind that's a little too technical for short TV spots and effective campaign messages -- his thoughts on taxation, budgeting and GOP politics. Click here to read the discussion.

(Note: This post in no way indicates an editorial board endorsement.)

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Campbell discusses his decision to switch to the U.S. Senate contest during a news conference in Sacramento on Jan. 15.

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

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