Overnight tracking polls for an election more than four months away don't mean much, but California Republican candidates for Congress and the Legislature must have shuddered a bit this week with the release of the first public presidential poll conducted after John McCain's call to lift the moratorium on oil drilling off the California coast.
A Rasmussen poll conducted June 23 showed Barack Obama with an eye-popping 28 percentage-point lead in the state, 58 percent to 30 percent. The advantage was much higher than previous state polls, which showed Obama leads ranging from 7 to 17 points.
It could have been a goofy result, or it could reflect state voters' first-blush reaction to McCain's decision to thumb his nose at what has been a bedrock political position in California. The only two GOP candidates to win statewide office since 1990 -- Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- made opposition to offshore oil a cornerstone of their environmental platforms. And in 2002, the ultra-conservative Bill Simon bragged in his campaign for governor that he was tougher on offshore oil drilling than Democrat Gray Davis.
Nationwide polls show that, politically, McCain's position makes sense because it is supported by a majority of heartland voters who are frustrated over high gas prices.
But somewhere in McCain's calculation must have been the recognition that his reversal on the oil-drilling moratorium would further hurt him in California.
He was likely not going to win the state under any circumstance. But the larger the margin for Obama in the state, the harder it will be for Republicans in tough races -- Congressmen Brian Bilbrae and David Dreier, for instance -- to hold onto their seats.