Each campaign is armed with a poll to tout.
But Niello's campaign is also declaring that its internal polling shows Niello can prevail.
A decisive question, both sides agree, is how much voters care about Niello's vote last year for a tax increase as part of a budget package -- a decision that drew wrath from conservative quarters.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ted Gaines, above left, and Roger Niello, below right. Brian Baer, Sacramento Bee file 2008
Dave Gilliard, Gaines' campaign consultant, said his candidate's poll tested Niello's explanation for his budget vote. The pollsters read Niello's words to those surveyed. Niello had said, "I voted to stop the state from sinking into oblivion."
Gilliard said "that didn't fly" at all among GOP voters, who are more than 46 percent of the district. They were eight-to-one against Niello's budget vote, Gilliad said. He said that politicians' positions on the budget and the deficit are far more important to voters in Senate District 1 than they are in most other regions in the state.
Stephanie Janztan, Niello's campaign consultant, said her candidate's poll also tested Niello's budget vote. "We want to have a real accurate read on where we are," she said.
Janztan acknowledged that support for Niello lagged when questions focused on the budget vote, but rose when Niello was compared to Gaines in other areas. Janztan didn't want to disclose what part of Gaines' record Niello's poll tested.
But she said, as a hint, "We're dealing with a candidate who says one thing and does another."
One likely line of attack: Gaines took per diem payments even though he lives close to the Capitol. He's not taking them now, he said, because legislators haven't passed a budget.
SD 1 is one of the state's most reliably GOP regions, occupying a northeastern swath of land from Modoc to Mono, part of Sacramento County and all of Placer and El Dorado counties.
The Senate seat is vacant following the death of Sen. Dave Cox - who was a staunch conservative but a swing voter at times on legislation having to do with children's programs.
If a candidate doesn't win more than 50 percent in November, then a runoff between the top vote getter of each party will take place Jan. 4.