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Are Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer inching ahead in California ... or not?

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Justin Kase Conder/AP

(Read caption) Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman addresses the audience during a fundraising event in Fresno, Calif., Friday. She has suggested that a new poll that shows her trailing Democrat Jerry Brown by 5 points is inaccurate.

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One of the rare bright spots for Democrats these days is in California.

Polls in both the Senate and gubernatorial race are showing Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown beginning to gain ground on their Republican opponents, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman.

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The good news for Mr. Brown, the former California governor and a fixture in state Democratic politics, comes on the eve of his first debate against Ms. Whitman, the former eBay CEO.

But Whitman has already taken issue with one of the polls gaining the most attention, a new Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll that shows Brown holding a 49 to 44 percent advantage over Whitman among likely voters.

In a memo on her website, Whitman says that “there is strong evidence” that the Times/USC poll undersampled Republicans, and notes that the California Field poll – conducted at the same time, and showing a tie between Brown and Whitman – offers a much different picture of the partisan landscape in California.

“Bottom line: We do not feel the L.A. Times poll accurately reflects the current state of the race,” wrote Whitman. We stand by our internal polls, which more closely align with the Field Poll.

Polling maven Nate Silver offers a take on her arguments at his FiveThirtyEight blog, concluding that while Whitman has some points, the idea that there is a single “right” partisan composition of the electorate is dubious. More importantly, he says, polling averages are more important than any single poll, and right now those averages suggest that the governor’s race is a tossup, with a bit of an advantage to Brown.

The polls are more in agreement when it comes to the Senate, where Senator Boxer appears to be widening her lead over Ms. Fiorina. (The same Times/USC poll gives the current Democratic incumbent an 8 point lead.)

But looking beyond the headlines of the poll, it’s not all good news for California Democrats.

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For one thing, it indicates the state’s Republicans are far more enthusiastic about voting than Democrats (as they are nationwide). And when the poll considered just the most enthusiastic voters, Whitman led by 12 percent, and Fiorina by 17 percent – a strong indication that Democrats need to work to energize voters if they want to win in November.

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