Capitol Alert

Leads shrink for Democrats Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein in top California races

Democrat Gavin Newsom maintains a strong lead in the race for California governor, but it has halved since the summer, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor, is favored by 51 percent of likely voters to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown this November, a slight dip from 55 percent in July. Republican John Cox, a businessman from San Diego County, made a significant gain in support, with 39 percent of respondents planning to vote for him this fall, up from 31 percent.

Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC, said Newsom’s narrowing lead — 12 points, down from 24 points in July — is reflective of the candidates’ differing approaches this summer.

“John Cox has been out and around with a message of being an outsider and someone independent of the process and not part of the problems that the state has,” Baldassare said. “That’s resonated with not just the Republican base, but also some of the independents.”

While more than 80 percent of Republicans favor Cox and Newsom has equally strong support among Democrats, voters without a party split nearly evenly: 42 percent said they would vote for Newsom, compared to 37 percent who preferred Cox, with another 15 percent undecided.

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Newsom, by contrast, has not spent much time recently countering his opponent’s claims or “talking about the differences between John Cox’s policy preferences and most Californians,” Baldassare noted. On a bus tour earlier this month, Newsom focused more on campaigning for down-ballot Democrats running for Congress and the Legislature.

Sustaining a double-digit lead without putting in major campaign resources indicates that Newsom is in a comfortable position in heavily Democratic California, Baldassare said: “Cox still has quite a ways to go.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s lead over state Sen. Kevin de León — both Democrats — has also slipped by half. Feinstein, seeking a sixth term in the U.S. Senate, is ahead by 11 points in the latest PPIC poll, compared to 22 points in July.

But the race is likely not that close, Baldassare said.

Among all likely voters, 40 percent favor Feinstein and de León trails with 29 percent. Yet nearly a quarter of respondents say they won’t cast a vote for Senate at all this November, including more than half of Republicans. That’s what happened in 2016, when two Democrats faced off for an open Senate seat.

Without those voters, Feinstein’s support grows to 52 percent, and de León sits at 37 percent. She is favored two-to-one by Democrats.

While de León has captured the enthusiasm of “a lot of Democrats who are upset about the way things are going in the country,” Baldassare said, more than half of likely voters approve of the job Feinstein is doing.

“You have to ask yourself: What’s the appeal, when there’s a strong approval rating, of voting for someone else?” Baldassare said.

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