Cal­i­for­nia may see con­tentious gov­er­nor’s race

New­som holds edge over Vil­laraigosa. Fe­in­stein draws strong back­ing for Se­nate.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Seema Me­hta and Phil Wil­lon

Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers are di­vided in next year’s gov­er­nor’s race, cre­at­ing a closer con­test be­tween Democrats Gavin New­som and An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa, ac­cord­ing to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

New­som leads Vil­laraigosa by more than 10 per­cent­age points in an elec­tion that is shap­ing up to be com­pet­i­tive, the poll found. New­som, the state’s lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, has dom­i­nated early polls and fundrais­ing.

“It has all the po­ten­tial to be a real race,” said Bob Shrum, the direc­tor of the Jesse M. Un­ruh In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at USC. “Maybe in Cal­i­for­nia we’re go­ing to have an elec­tion that’s not fore­or­dained.”

The poll also found Cal­i­for­ni­ans over­whelm­ingly sup­port Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein’s re­elec­tion bid, and she is far bet­ter known than her top ri­val. Still, Se­nate leader Kevin de León won 3 in 10 reg­is­tered vot­ers.

Shrum said the poll re­sults sug­gest a re­peat of the 2016 Se­nate con­test, which fea­tured two Democrats on the fall bal­lot be­cause no Repub­li­cans made it past the top-two pri­mary. The odds of the GOP be­ing shut out in both races are “very high,” he said.

The on­line poll of 1,296 reg­is­tered Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers was con­ducted be­tween Oct. 27 and Nov. 6, one year from the 2018 elec­tion. The race for gov­er­nor has grown in­creas­ingly con­tentious, as the Se­nate con­test gets more crowded.

The mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror was 4 per­cent­age points in ei­ther di­rec­tion, and higher for sub­groups.

Both con­tests are ex­pected to be among the na-

tion’s mar­quee races in 2018 as the Demo­cratic Party un­der­goes a tur­bu­lent power strug­gle be­tween its pro­gres­sive left and more cen­trist es­tab­lish­ment, es­pe­cially on is­sues such as sin­gle-payer health­care. Many mil­lions of dol­lars will be spent on these pre­mier po­lit­i­cal posts in the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous and eco­nom­i­cally pow­er­ful state.

Democrats hold a 19point voter reg­is­tra­tion edge over Repub­li­cans, and the GOP has not elected a statewide can­di­date since 2006. The poll in­di­cates that Democrats’ iron grip on po­lit­i­cal power in Cal­i­for­nia will not weaken any time soon.

New­som, who briefly ran for gov­er­nor in 2009 be­fore drop­ping out, had the sup­port of 31% of reg­is­tered vot­ers who plan to cast bal­lots in the June 5 pri­mary. He was fol­lowed by Vil­laraigosa, who had the sup­port of nearly 21%.

Two Repub­li­cans — Assem­bly­man Travis Allen of Hunt­ing­ton Beach and busi­ness­man John Cox — are run­ning for gov­er­nor. Allen stood in third place, win­ning the sup­port of 15% of vot­ers who plan to cast bal­lots in the pri­mary. Cox re­ceived the sup­port of more than 11% — and the dif­fer­ence be­tween them was within the mar­gin of er­ror.

Allen, a Hunt­ing­ton Beach state law­maker, has lit­tle money but is a fa­mil­iar face to state Repub­li­can Party ac­tivists. Cox, who is lesser known in state GOP cir­cles, has put $3 mil­lion of his own money into his cam­paign.

Ac­cord­ing to the poll, 43% of Repub­li­can vot­ers fa­vored Allen and 33% backed Cox. A fair share of Repub­li­cans — 15% — sided with one of the Democrats. Vil­laraigosa topped that list, win­ning the fa­vor of 6% of GOP vot­ers.

The Repub­li­cans run­ning for gov­er­nor, on the other hand, were shunned by Demo­cratic vot­ers: Cox and Allen each had the sup­port of about 1.5% of vot­ers from the other party.

Cox’s stand­ing is roughly tied with state Trea­surer John Chi­ang, a Demo­crat who has raised sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars and is ag­gres­sively cam­paign­ing across the state. Chi­ang had 12% sup­port. For­mer state schools chief De­laine Eastin, also a Demo­crat, lagged far be­hind at 4%.

The top picks among in­de­pen­dent vot­ers — a grow­ing share of the Cal­i­for­nia elec­torate — were New­som and Vil­laraigosa. Twen­ty­seven per­cent backed New­som and 26% chose Vil­laraigosa. Among Repub­li­can can­di­dates, Allen won 13% of in­de­pen­dents com­pared with 8% for Cox.

New­som dom­i­nated across racial groups and gen­ders, with the sole ex­cep­tion of Latino vot­ers, who fa­vored Vil­laraigosa, the for­mer Los Angeles mayor, by nearly 2 to 1.

The group is piv­otal to Vil­laraigosa’s cam­paign. The same goes for vot­ers in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where Vil­laraigosa leads in Or­ange and San Diego coun­ties as well as the In­land Em­pire.

Vot­ers in L.A. County, where Vil­laraigosa made his name in pol­i­tics and a linch­pin of his path to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion, were split be­tween the two lead­ing can­di­dates. New­som and Vil­laraigosa were ef­fec­tively tied at about 20% each among reg­is­tered vot­ers.

Up north, on New­som’s

home turf, the for­mer San Fran­cisco mayor swamped Vil­laraigosa, with sup­port from more than 53% of reg­is­tered vot­ers in the Bay Area com­pared with Vil­laraigosa’s 6%.

The field is not set­tled, with for­mer GOP Rep. Doug Ose con­sid­er­ing en­ter­ing the race.

It’s the most com­pet­i­tive con­test in Cal­i­for­nia since 2010, when bil­lion­aire Meg Whit­man spent more than $178 mil­lion — in­clud­ing $144 mil­lion of her own money — try­ing un­suc­cess­fully to stop Jerry Brown from re­turn­ing to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion. Brown, who also was gov­er­nor from 1975 to 1983, is fin­ish­ing his sec­ond term of this era and re­mains the most pop­u­lar elected of­fi­cial in the state with a 44% job ap­proval rat­ing.

In the U.S. Se­nate race, Fe­in­stein’s bid for a fifth full term was ex­pected to be a sleepy af­fair un­til De León an­nounced that he would at­tempt to un­seat his fel­low Demo­crat.

Fe­in­stein, who has rep­re­sented Cal­i­for­nia in the Se­nate for a quar­ter-cen­tury, is known for her mea­sured tone and ap­proach. But she has drawn crit­i­cism from lib­eral vot­ers over her strat­egy in deal­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump, no­tably her call for “pa­tience” with his pres­i­dency ear­lier this year.

De León and Tom Steyer, a po­ten­tial Se­nate can­di­date and bil­lion­aire Demo­cratic donor, have seized upon such re­marks as they try to cap­i­tal­ize on Trump’s deep un­pop­u­lar­ity among Cal­i­for­nia Democrats.

They face enor­mous chal­lenges. The USC/Times poll found that in a face­off be­tween Fe­in­stein and De León, she would cruise to vic­tory with the sup­port of more than 58% of reg­is­tered vot­ers who say they plan to vote, com­pared with De León’s 31%.

If Steyer de­cides to run, he saps sup­port from both can­di­dates — a greater share from De León. In a three-way race, he had 17%, Fe­in­stein won half and De León won the sup­port of nearly a quar­ter of vot­ers who plan to par­tic­i­pate in the pri­mary.

Few vot­ers know who these men are. About 80% of reg­is­tered vot­ers did not know enough about De León to form an opin­ion of him, and roughly three-quar­ters said the same about Steyer. The bil­lion­aire could at­tempt to change that by us­ing his per­sonal wealth to sat­u­rate the air­waves. That’s an ad­van­tage De León does not have.

“De León needs to raise an enor­mous amount of money if he’s go­ing to get known, to be­come com­pet­i­tive,” said Shrum, of USC.

More than 34% of reg­is­tered vot­ers viewed Fe­in­stein fa­vor­ably, com­pared with 30% who viewed her un­fa­vor­ably.

Among reg­is­tered vot­ers who plan to cast bal­lots, she dom­i­nated among gen­ders, races and in ev­ery re­gion of the state. Even among GOP vot­ers who plan to vote in the Se­nate con­test, Fe­in­stein won the sup­port of nearly 39%.

Brian van der Brug Los Angeles Times

LT. GOV. GAVIN New­som, at right dur­ing an Oct. 26 rally, is pop­u­lar with vot­ers in his home turf of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where he was a mayor of San Fran­cisco.

Al Seib Los Angeles Times

FOR­MER L.A. Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa, seen tak­ing a self-por­trait on Oct. 6, has a nearly 2-to-1 ad­van­tage among Latino vot­ers — a key group in his cam­paign.

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