Republican leads controller’s race in Field Poll

In the state controller’s race, Republican Ashley Swearengin holds an early lead over a pair of better-known Democrats vying to advance to the general election in November, according to a new Field Poll.

Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno, has the backing of 28 percent of likely voters and derives much of her support from fellow Republicans. In the intraparty showdown for second place, state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee receives 19 percent and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez gets 14 percent. Thirty-eight percent are undecided and 1 percent prefer another candidate in the down-ticket contest.

Under the state’s new election system, the top-two finishers regardless of party proceed to the general election contest to replace Controller John Chiang, a Democrat who is termed out and running for state treasurer.

Considered a rising star of the California GOP, Swearengin could give her hobbled state party the best chance at reclaiming a constitutional office. Her path to victory becomes considerably tougher should she finish in the top two.

She counts as supporters 61 percent of conservatives and does well with non-college graduates, inland residents and voters over the age of 50. The likely electorate for the June 3 primary is 75 percent white, 67 percent over 50 and 37 percent Republican, said Mark DiCamillo , director of the Field Poll.

“Swearengin is definitely benefiting from the fact that this will be a low-turnout election,” he said.

Yee and Pérez were fighting it out for the second spot in the poll. Although Pérez enjoys a massive cash-on-hand advantage, Yee outpolls him among women, liberals, voters over 50 and “middle-of-the-road voters” – those who don’t identify as liberal or conservative. Pérez’s core supporters, meanwhile, constitute groups that are likely to participate in the primary in lesser numbers: Latinos, men and younger voters.

DiCamillo said the survey of the controller’s race and a recent poll on the secretary of state’s contest help shed light on the new primary system and underscore the impact of one party fielding multiple competitive candidates.

“When you have multiple viable candidates on one side, it gives an early advantage to the other (party),” he said.

The poll did not ask voters about a trio of lesser-known candidates, Democrat Tammy Blair, Republican David Evans and Green party candidate Laura Wells.

Swearengin, who considers the controller’s office an overlooked post, is the least known of the three candidates in the survey: Just 36 percent have any opinion of her.

Pérez, one of the state’s most powerful politicians, is recognized by 53 percent (28 percent favorably and 25 percent unfavorably.) Yee is known by 51 percent (28 percent favorably and 23 percent unfavorably). Nothing from the survey pointed to potential backlash from sharing a last name with disgraced Democratic Sen. Leland Yee, who was arrested March 26 on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic firearms.

“We didn’t see a drop-off,” DiCamillo said. “Nothing to write home about, anyway.”

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