Capitol Alert

Villaraigosa, mulling U.S. Senate run, informed by private polls

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, joins Attorney General Kamala Harris as she speaks at a news conference regarding criminal and civil responses to mortgage fraud in Los Angeles in 2011.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, joins Attorney General Kamala Harris as she speaks at a news conference regarding criminal and civil responses to mortgage fraud in Los Angeles in 2011. AP

As he considers a run for the U.S. Senate, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is consulting a growing pile of public-opinion polls on the race.

But unlike traditional polls funded by candidate campaigns or news organizations, the recent surveys were paid for by outside groups and released online through blogs and other media.

That allows Villaraigosa and some of the others weighing a challenge to Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris to gauge their early standing in the race without having to launch exploratory committees or pay thousands of dollars to commission a poll. Public dissemination of the data, sometimes in select amounts, also lets would-be candidates avoid having to list the polls as gifts, or so-called in-kind contributions.

Garry South, a Democratic consultant who has talked extensively with Villaraigosa, said he doubted Villaraigosa was putting much stock in the numbers. Harris’ camp also has trickled out favorable surveys of their own, South said.

“There is obviously dueling polls trying to encourage and discourage Antonio Villaraigosa to run,” he said. “These things are cute, they are interesting, they can maybe help you with donors, but at this stage in the game, more than a year before the filing deadline, these polls mean nothing about the final result.”

None of the three polls released over the last two weeks expressly favor a candidate, and their results aren’t universally good for Villaraigosa, who is seen as the leading contender to Harris. But they do highlight some bright spots for the former Assembly speaker, and in some cases delve deeper into the opinions of voters he would rely on in a statewide run. They also come amid growing calls to draft a Latino candidate.

One poll by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group was paid for by the California Latino Legislative Caucus. In a memo, the pollsters concluded that while the campaign “is very much in flux ... our polling data indicates that a Latino candidate could mount a strong challenge (in fact, the best-known Latino [Villaraigosa] already starts in a competitive position), and has the chance to energize an electorate that is very pro-Democratic.”

Roger Salazar, a caucus spokesman, said the group has not shared or posted, publicly or in-kind, anything other than what it sent to the media, except among caucus members themselves. “The pollster went over the poll with the Caucus members,” he said.

Another poll conducted for the California Majority Report by Bendixen and Amandi International surveyed California voters of Latino origin. Spokesman Steve Maviglio said the poll showed a “wide open” contest and pollster Fernand Amandi added that it could become an “extremely competitive race if a Latino candidate enters the field and energizes the Latino electorate.”

The third survey, which was not officially released to the media, found its way into a story by The Hill. The automated poll from Public Policy Polling was conducted for the Los Angeles County Young Democrats, of which Villaraigosa’s son is a board member. A spokesman for the club said the survey was originally produced only for the board.

“Over the next four years, Californians have an historic opportunity to shape our political future,” the group said in a statement. “As the most powerful political voice of Los Angeles’s young people, LACYD is energized by the demonstrated strength of Southern California’s new generation of Democratic leaders.”

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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