The two major Republican candidates in the race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown are battling for second place to make the November runoff, while Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has strengthened his lead, according to a new poll from UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies.
The poll shows businessman John Cox preferred by 18 percent of likely voters in the June 5 primary, while Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, won support from 16 percent. Both are well ahead of Democrat and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who dropped to 9 percent, down from 17 percent in December, and well behind Newsom, preferred by 30 percent.
"Both major Republican candidates are now holding an advantage over Villaraigosa for finishing second in the top-two primary," said poll director Mark DiCamillo.
The poll, conducted April 16-22 , also "is good news" for Newsom, DiCamillo said. The former San Francisco mayor had 30 percent of likely voters behind him, up from 26 percent in December. "I think he can be expected to be one of the candidates, if not the top candidate, to move on to the November general election," DiCamillo said.
The latest results come about five weeks ahead of the primary, when California voters will send the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to the November runoff.
State Treasurer John Chiang had 7 percent support from likely voters. Former schools chief Delaine Eastin had 4 percent, and 13 percent of voters are undecided.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to turn out and vote this June — giving Cox and Allen an advantage over the other Democratic challengers, DiCamillo said. That could be even more good news for Newsom in the general election, when, historically, Democrats and independents turn out in greater numbers.
The poll also suggested voters haven't yet formed an opinion about Allen, a little-known lawmaker in the minority party, or Cox, who has never held elected office. Cox has run unsuccessfully for multiple offices, including twice for Congress in Illinois, for the 2008 Republican nomination for president and for Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
Less than a quarter have a favorable view of Cox, while 9 percent have an unfavorable view and 68 percent have no opinion, suggesting they don't know him. Allen has similar results – 20 percent favorability compared to 8 percent unfavorability. Another 72 percent of likely voters have no opinion.
Bill Whalen, a Republican and research fellow at the Hoover Institution, said the conservative uprising against California's so-called "sanctuary state" law and undocumented immigrants could be fueling support for Republicans, but he said to remain competitive, they'll have to appeal to independents and "disaffected Democrats."
"There aren't enough Republicans in California to do the trick," Whalen said, speaking of winning the governor's race.
Whalen said growing support for Newsom could be a reflection of California voters' disdain for President Donald Trump.
"He is the most vociferous of the anti-Trump people on the ballot," Whalen said. "You can argue that is paying off. The harder you bash Donald Trump, the higher your numbers go up."
Whalen cautioned against dismissing Villaraigosa too soon. An independent campaign run by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates is funneling millions of dollars into advertisements on Villaraigosa's behalf, and it's still relatively early, he said.
"I don't think it's over," Whalen said. "How much are voters really paying attention to the race right now? He still has five or six weeks."