By CASEY TOLAN
Bay Area News Group
With 75 days to go before the June 5 primary election, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to lead the field for governor, while former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has fallen into third place, overtaken by a Southern California Republican, according to a new poll.
Republican John Cox, a San Diego County businessman, was in second place, the poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found — giving hope to GOP leaders worried their party would be shut out completely in the top-two primary.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein continues to hold a large lead over her main challenger, former State Senate leader Kevin de León, running ahead of him by 26 points despite the state Democratic partys snub of her candidacy last month.
The poll surveyed 1,706 California adults between March 4 and March 13.
In the governors race, Newsom led with 28 percent, with Cox at 14 percent, Villaraigosa at 12 percent, and Republican State Assemblyman Travis Allen at 10 percent. Democrats John Chiang, the state treasurer, and Delaine Eastin, the former state schools chief, brought up the rear at 6 and 5 percent, respectively. The poll did not include former Hillary Clinton aide Amanda Renteria, whos also in the running.
“We now have about half of the likely voters saying that theyre paying close attention to news about the candidates,” said Mark Baldassare, the polls director. “Its a question mark whos going to be that second person who will run against Newsom — will it be a Democrat, will it be a Republican?”
The biggest drop was for Villaraigosa, who had 21 percent and was almost neck-and-neck with Newsom in PPICs last poll, conducted in late January.
One change since then has been Villaraigosas ballot title — because of state election rules, he isnt allowed to introduce himself to voters as the former L.A. mayor. Instead, hes chosen to call himself a “public policy advisor” on the ballot. This months poll used that title, unlike the January poll.
Republicans could have been helped by the decision of former Congressman Doug Ose to drop out of the race. Ose only had three percent in the last poll, but the latest results show more previously undecided Republican voters consolidating around Cox and Allen.
Coxs campaign has also launched a series of TV and radio ads, made possible because of a total of $4 million the candidate has given to his campaign. Allens campaign, which has trailed in fundraising, has instead focused on a series of campaign rallies planned around the state.
Still, 24 percent of likely voters said they were undecided in the race.
Newsom and Coxs campaigns trumpeted the results. “Gavin Newsom has a commanding, two-to-one lead and everyone else is competing for second,” said Newsom spokesman Nathan Click.
“John Cox has broken out,” said campaign manager Tim Rosales. “Republicans are clearly starting to unite behind John Cox and notably he runs second amongst likely independent voters.”
Villaraigosa spokesman Luis Vizcaino said the campaign wasnt deterred. “While polls go up and down, we remain focused on our vision of greater economic opportunity and equality for all,” he said.
Almost one in four voters said the top issue they wanted to hear about in the governors race was immigration. Thats probably in part because the poll was being conducted in the days following the Trump administrations lawsuit against California over laws protecting undocumented immigrants. “Both Republicans and Democrats ranked immigration number one,” Baldassare said.
About 55 percent of likely voters supported the state laws defending undocumented immigrants, while most Republicans opposed them, and about half of respondents said a federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants is a mostly bad thing.
The poll also found a stark partisan divide over the most important qualifications for elected office. Almost three-fourths of Democrats, 73 percent, prefer a candidate with political experience, while a majority of Republicans, 56 percent, prefer to vote for someone new to politics.
The poll also found that a majority of Californians back the states in-progress high speed rail project. Fifty-three percent of all adults said they supported the project compared to 43 percent who opposed it — although those numbers were almost reversed among likely voters, who oppose it. Theres strong support in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, while more opposition in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. The poll was already in progress when the latest report came out this month projecting rising costs and growing construction delays.
And about two-thirds of likely voters, 64 percent, say theyll vote yes in November for this years ballot measure to approve a $4 billion affordable housing bond. The bond, which has been championed by San Jose State Sen. Jim Beall, would be used to build new affordable housing projects and repair existing ones. There were partisan divisions here too: 85 percent of Democratic likely voters and 64 percent of independents back the housing bond, compared with just 33 percent of Republicans.
The poll conducted interviews in English and Spanish and on both landline phones and cellphones. The margin of error was plus and minus 3.4 percent for all adults, and plus and minus 4.5 percent for likely voters.