Capitol Alert Breaking

Tight race for schools chief

The contest to become California’s top education official is the state’s most competitive statewide race, with a new Field Poll showing a virtual tie between incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck.

The poll also showed Democrats ahead in every other statewide race among those likely to vote in Tuesday’s election. They hold comfortable double-digit percentage leads in campaigns to become California’s attorney general, treasurer, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner. Gov. Jerry Brown continues to hold a commanding position as he seeks a historic fourth term, besting Republican challenger Neel Kashkari 54 percent to 33 percent. More than 8 out of 10 registered Democrats favor Brown, while 59 percent of voters with no party preference also back the governor. Among Republicans, Kashkari leads Brown by a 76 percent to 14 percent margin.

In a poll underscoring Democratic clout in California, Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said, Brown’s dominance still stands out.

“When you start looking at the size of Brown’s ... lead a week before the election and you can compare it to the other statewide office races, it even makes Brown’s lead that much more impressive,” DiCamillo said.

The margin is closer in contests for California controller and secretary of state. State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, leads Republican Pete Peterson, director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University, by a 44 percent to 37 percent margin as both men vie to become California’s elections overseer.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, trails Democratic Board of Equalization member Betty Yee 44 percent to 36 percent in the race for state controller, an office wielding broad powers to investigate state spending.

Despite the deadlock the poll recorded in the state superintendent of public instruction’s race, a huge share of voters remain undecided. While those who support Tuck and those who support Torlakson both made up 28 percent of the voters surveyed, 44 percent had not yet made up their minds.

The race took on new meaning after a sweeping California court ruling that challenged the state’s teacher tenure and dismissal rules. Torlakson has appealed the ruling, while Tuck has lent the decision his full-throated support.

Huge sums of money have flowed into the race. Outside expenditures made on behalf of or against either candidate have been worth a combined $13.9 million, according to state filings. DiCamillo said the nonpartisan nature of the race makes the choice more difficult.

“There’s no party label affixed to either of these candidates, so voters have to make their judgments based on other kinds of information, other cues,” DiCamillo said. “For many voters, they’re holding off making that decision to the very end.”

That’s true for Edward Lewis, a 77-year-old retiree who lives in Visalia. A registered Republican, he spoke with conviction of the need to defeat Brown but sounded far less certain about the state superintendent’s race.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Lewis said. “I might not do that until I get in the polling booth.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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