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Field Poll: Condoleezza Rice, Kamala Harris look strong for U.S. Senate

Kamala Harris, left, and Condoleezza Rice, right
Kamala Harris, left, and Condoleezza Rice, right

More than 13 months before candidates can officially sign up for the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer next year, little can be said with certainty – even by paid experts.

But here’s an early go at it:

Nearly half of California’s likely voters are inclined to support Democrat Kamala Harris – the only announced campaigner for the seat – according to the statewide Field Poll released Wednesday.

The only candidate faring better was former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a Republican who has portrayed a run as “not even a consideration.”

Plenty of Democrats beyond Harris are considering a campaign, and the poll shows that they may have reason to see themselves as California’s next U.S. senator.

Reps. Loretta Sanchez of Santa Ana, John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, Jackie Speier of Hillsborough and Secretary of State Alex Padilla all are performing as well or better than former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, generally viewed as the leading potential challenger to Harris.

“Voters would be open to considering a broad range of Democrats,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. Villaraigosa, he added, “at this point, is just one of a number of pretty well-known Democrats that score about the same.”

A third or more of voters, meanwhile, had no opinion of former Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, and Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, an Oceanside Republican who on Tuesday formally launched an exploratory committee for the seat.

Boxer’s announcement last month that she would not seek a fifth term launched behind-the-scenes scrambling for what could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Not all of the poll respondents are paying attention just yet.

Democrat Kelli Beard told pollsters that she’s inclined to vote for Harris. She also would vote for Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Garamendi.

On Harris, Beard said, “I remembered hearing her name,” adding, “I don’t know what she stands for” on many issues.

The election, “it’s just too far away,” said Beard, a 57-year-old registered nurse from Yuba City who said she usually waits until “a couple weeks before the election“ to make up her mind. “I am waiting for more information to come out ...’

Harris’ candidacy is boosted by her position as the state’s chief law enforcement official and her two successful statewide races since 2010. Among likely Democratic voters, 74 percent are inclined to support Harris. Sanchez registers 64 percent support, and Padilla gets 61 percent.

For Villaraigosa, much of the early drumbeat from supporters has centered on wanting to field a candidate who could carry the mantle for Latinos and Southern Californians. They dismissed the early support for Harris as part of an effort by Democratic Northern California elites to freeze out the competition.

The poll found that Latino voters, at 60 percent, were more willing to support Villaraigosa than any of the other candidates. Padilla, Harris and Sanchez received more than 50 percent support. “For Villaraigosa, if the claim is, ‘we need to rally the Latino base, (they) have a point,” DiCamillo said.

Bob Ramsey, a distribution technician at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, said he grew up in the San Fernando Valley and liked the direction the region took under Villaraigosa as mayor. Ramsey said his initial impulse to vote for Villaraigosa was based more on his record than his ethnicity.

“It just seems like he did a good job with L.A.,” he said.

Republican Nathan Bohl had an answer ready when asked why he would cast a vote for Rice, even though he strongly believes her repeated, unequivocal assertions that she isn’t interested in running for elective office. “She’s not a Democrat,” Bohl said.

A 42-year-old food safety consultant from Clovis, he called Rice “the only Republican with a legitimate shot at winning in California.”

“Name value alone would put her in (contention),” he said. “And having been in the (George W.) Bush administration, she’s going to have the qualifications that are necessary to run for U.S. Senate.”

Meantime, Bohl acknowledged that Rice’s position in the Bush White House, including her central role in the run-up to the Iraq War, would be a vulnerability.

“They will string Bush right around her neck,” he said.

DiCamillo said he couldn’t help but note his surprise at Rice’s widespread early support.

“Not only does she do extremely well among Republicans, but she does considerably better than any of the Republicans among Democrats, and she is at the top of the list among nonpartisan voters,” DiCamillo said.

He went on for a bit before stopping himself in mid-sentence: “I don’t want to say too much about her because she’s probably not even a candidate.”

Might Rice reconsider?

“I have heard of the poll,” spokeswoman Georgia Godfrey said in an email. “No change on her position about running for Senate!”

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

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