Capitol Alert

Poll: California Democrats to advance to runoff for U.S. Senate

Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez, campaigning for the U.S. Senate in California, are poised to meet in a fall rematch, according to a new poll.

Harris, the state attorney general, and Sanchez, a veteran congresswoman from Orange County, continue to claim the top two positions in the 34-candidate contest to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. If the dynamics of the relatively sleepy race hold, the Democrats would meet again in the general election on Nov. 8.

The Public Policy Institute of California poll, released late Wednesday, had Harris leading with support from 27 percent of likely voters. Sanchez was at 19 percent, while Republican Tom Del Beccaro was a distant third at 8 percent, followed by GOP candidates Ron Unz (6 percent) and Duf Sundheim (3 percent).

Despite months of campaigning, and a recent burst of late TV ads from Harris and Sanchez, a third of likely primary voters are undecided, the same percentage that was ambivalent in a March PPIC poll. Among Republicans, nearly half are undecided, along with 35 percent of independents.

Analysts predicted the large numbers of equivocal voters would decrease as the race for California’s first open U.S. Senate seat in nearly a quarter-century neared. On Wednesday, Mark Baldassare, the president and chief executive of PPIC, said he was among those who now were startled to see such a high number of undecided voters.

“It’s just very surprising that there’s not more decisiveness on the part of the electorate, particularly among Republicans,” Baldassare said.

He said the prolonged presidential race, with all three remaining candidates campaigning across California, probably has diverted attention away from the Senate – “or at least the search for information about the race.”

Harris leads Sanchez 43 percent to 32 percent among Democrats, while Sanchez has a large advantage with Latinos, 48 percent to Harris’ 19 percent.

There has been scant attention on the Republican field, and only nominal spending by the candidates. Republican benefactor Charles Munger Jr. recently reported spending more than $50,000 in support of Sundheim.

This week, the newly formed Californians for Fiscal Responsibility spent $380,000 against Del Beccaro. The new group shares a treasurer with Munger’s Spirit of Democracy PAC, a fact Del Beccaro said backs up his claim that the wealthy donor is behind the effort targeting him.

Representatives for Munger did not return calls and emails trying to ascertain if he’s the source of the new spending.

Should the Democrats proceed to the fall runoff, 34 percent would vote for Harris and 26 percent for Sanchez. Nearly a quarter of voters would skip the race and another 15 percent are undecided.

Under the all-Democratic scenario, Sanchez, the more moderate of the two, may not be able to rely too heavily on the backing of Republicans. PPIC found 51 percent of Republicans report they would skip the Senate race altogether.

Baldassare said it’s difficult to imagine “people wouldn’t express themselves in something as important as a Senate race.”

“But,” he added, “it speaks loud and clear about the uncertainty that the race is creating for Republicans.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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