Two Democrats – state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez – hold the top two spots in the contest to replace U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, according to a new Field Poll.
The survey of likely voters has Harris ahead of Sanchez, 30 percent to 17 percent. Republican Rocky Chávez, an assemblyman from Oceanside, is in third place at 9 percent, followed by Tom Del Beccaro, 6 percent, and Duf Sundheim, 3 percent. Del Beccaro and Sundheim are former California GOP chairmen.
This early in the election, with more than 30 percent of voters still undecided, likely voter preferences remain highly partisan – “what you would expect at this point,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. With Harris maintaining a strong lead, he said, the persistent question is “will it be Sanchez, or one of the Republicans?”
Under California’s election system, the top two candidates in the primary, regardless of their party affiliation, advance to the general election. While dozens of legislative and congressional races have featured two candidates from the same party in November runoff elections, it has not happened in a partisan statewide contest since the top-two law went into effect in 2012.
For Republicans to do well in the Senate race, DiCamillo said, they must coalesce around one candidate, as well as build a stronger constituency among voters with no party preference.
Forty-five percent of unaligned voters have yet to decide on a favorite candidate.
Neither Democrat has been particularly active on the campaign trail since the two appeared at the state party convention in May. Harris has increased her support by 11 percentage points while Sanchez’s backing grew by 9 points in the five months.
Meanwhile, they’ve carved out distinct, if not obvious, bases of early support.
Harris, a career prosecutor from San Francisco, is strongest with Democrats, Bay Area residents, Asians and African Americans.
Sanchez, a veteran congresswoman with deep ties to her native Orange County, does well with Latinos and residents of Southern California, particularly along the South Coast.
Some 42 percent of Republican likely voters have yet to settle on a candidate.
Should a Republican rise into the top two, that candidate would face an uphill battle. Democrats lead in statewide voter registration by 16 percentage points.