State Sen. Kevin de León is clinging narrowly to second place in Tuesday's primary race for U.S. Senate and a slot in the Nov. 6 runoff against incumbent Dianne Feinstein, a new poll shows.
The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, conducted May 22 through 28 online, found that Feinstein remains comfortably the front-runner as she vies for a sixth term, with support from 36 percent of likely voters. De León, a fellow Democrat, trails well behind, at 11 percent, just a few percentage points ahead of Republican James P. Bradley.
The little known Southern California businessman had the support of 7 percent of likely voters in the survey. A second Republican, Paul A. Taylor, was backed by 4 percent. A quarter of voters remain undecided.
Only the top two vote-getters in Tuesday's election will advance to the November election.
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"It looks to us that the race for second is still wide open," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the IGS poll.
That's worrying news for de León, the onetime leader of the California Senate, who has been traveling the state trying to rally liberal enthusiasm for his campaign against the better-known and better-funded Feinstein.
Despite that "Corner to Corner" tour, support for the Los Angeles-based politician has not budged since the last IGS poll, conducted in mid-April, which also showed him at 11 percent. Feinstein's backing, meanwhile, has gone up 8 percentage points, and she has maintained the backing of a majority of registered Democrats and self-identified liberals. De León garnered 18 percent from each group.
Bradley's support, meanwhile, didn't evaporate in the May poll, despite the fact that pollsters randomly rotated the names of the 32 Senate candidates. In the April IGS poll, 10 percent of likely voters said they backed Bradley, a first-time candidate who's raised hardly any money. That caught political watchers by surprise.
Paul Mitchell, vice president of the bipartisan voter data firm Political Data, suggested Bradley's support in that earlier poll stemmed largely from the fact that the poll listed the candidates in alphabetical order, and he was the first GOP candidate with "an Anglo-sounding name" and respectable-sounding designation — chief financial officer.
DiCamillo said the new poll shows Bradley's rise in the polls can't be chalked up to ordering effect. But he agreed with Mitchell that because Republican voters have never heard of any of the 12 GOP candidates in the race, "they’re looking at the name and they’re looking at the job description."
Republican voters were almost twice as likely to be undecided going into the final week of the primary race, the poll found. Thirty-eight percent of likely GOP voters said they hadn't made up their mind about who to vote for in the Senate race, compared to 20 percent of Democrats. A third of independent voters remain undecided. That means Republicans have the best chance to see their numbers go up in the final days of the race, DiCamillo said.
DiCamillo believes that de León remains the favorite to finish second. He has the support of powerful labor unions, including the California Labor Federation. A labor-backed Super PAC, Change California Now, is spending $677,000 on television, radio and digital ads on his behalf, Federal Election Commission reports reveal. But DiCamillo added, "I do feel like second place is kind of up for grabs, it’s a real race."