Capitol Alert

Bernie Sanders gaining on Hillary Clinton in California

Hillary Rodham Clinton remains 12 percentage points ahead of the surging Bernie Sanders, according to a new Field Poll, but her support among likely Democratic voters in California has plummeted.

The poll, released Wednesday, reflects Clinton’s weakened but still-frontrunner status nationally in the presidential primary. The California measure is striking in contrast to the overwhelming support Clinton previously enjoyed in this heavily Democratic state.

Not only has Clinton lost ground to Sanders in California, nearly two-thirds of likely Democratic voters say it would be good for the party if Vice President Joe Biden entered the race – though they would not necessarily support him.

Clinton, struggling with ongoing controversy surrounding her use of personal email while secretary of state, dropped 19 percentage points in the poll from May, to 47 percent. Sanders, who polled in single digits five months ago, shot up 26 percentage points, to 35 percent.

“Clinton’s support has taken a big hit over the past few months,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “She needs to get past that (email controversy) to try to stabilize the situation.”

While Clinton remains ahead among likely voters in the Democratic primary, excitement for her candidacy has waned, according to the poll. Thirty-seven percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they would react enthusiastically if Clinton won the nomination, down 9 percentage points from May.

Sixty-three percent of likely Democratic voters think it would be good for the party if Biden became a candidate. This includes large majorities of Clinton and Sanders supporters, who appear to want Biden in the race despite placing their support behind other candidates.

If Biden did run, he would start a distant third in California, with just 15 percent support among likely Democratic voters, according to the poll.

Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have cultivated a far-reaching donor and political network in California, having raised money here for a quarter-century. The former first lady has enjoyed relatively positive public approval ratings for decades, and the state went for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the primary election in 2008.

But Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, has gained momentum with support from strongly liberal Democrats, as well as from young people and white voters.

“Sanders has really mounted a challenge,” DiCamillo said.

Among poll respondents supporting Sanders was Joan Callaway, a retired clothing store owner from Davis.

She said the email controversy surrounding Clinton is a “bogus thing” and that, while she supports Sanders, she expects Clinton to become the nominee.

“I’m waiting for Hillary to come around on a few issues,” Callaway said. “I think she’s a little bit, I don’t know, on the corporate side.”

In the general election, the 84-year-old said, “I like Hillary, too, and I certainly would vote for her, or Biden. I’m really pretty open.”

Sanders stands to benefit more than Clinton if Biden does enter the race. If Biden were running, Clinton’s lead over Sanders would fall from 12 percentage points to 9, according to the poll.

It is not until June that the primary election will reach California, with voters here going to the polls long after the primary nomination is expected to be decided.

Michael Sommers, a 65-year-old Democrat from California City, said he hasn’t made up his mind because “we’ve got a year to go.”

He said he supported Bill Clinton because “he did a lot for the country economically.”

Of Hillary Clinton, Sommers said, “I don’t know.”

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 9 a.m. Wednesday to correct the time of the primary election in California.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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