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In California, race for governor tightens and Sen. Feinstein holds lead for re-election

Seema Mehta and Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Californians overwhelmingly support Sen. Dianne Feinstein's re-election bid, and she is far better known than her top rival, according to a new University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Voters are more divided in the governor's race, creating a closer contest between Democrats Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa.

Newsom leads Villaraigosa by more than 10 percentage points in an election that is shaping up to be competitive, the USC/Times poll found. Newsom, the state's lieutenant governor, has dominated early polls and fundraising.

"It has all the potential to be a real race," said Bob Shrum, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "Maybe in California we're going to have an election that's not foreordained." He added that the poll results suggest a repeat of the 2016 Senate contest that featured two Democrats on the fall ballot since no Republicans made it past the top-two primary. The odds of the GOP being shut out in both races are "very high," Shrum said.

The online poll of 1,296 registered California voters was conducted between Oct. 27 and Nov. 6, one year from the 2018 election. The race for governor has grown increasingly contentious, as the Senate contest gets more crowded. The margin of error was four points in either direction, and higher for subgroups.

Both contests are expected to be among the nation's marquee races in 2018 as the Democratic Party undergoes a turbulent power struggle between its progressive left and more centrist establishment, especially on issues such as single-payer health care. Many millions of dollars will be spent on these premiere political posts in the nation's most populous and economically powerful state.

Democrats hold a 19-point voter registration edge over Republicans and the GOP has not elected a statewide candidate since 2006. The poll indicates that Democrats' iron grip on political power in California will not weaken any time soon.

Newsom, who briefly ran for governor in 2009 before dropping out, had the support of 31 percent of registered voters who plan to cast ballots in the June 5 primary. He was followed by Villaraigosa, who had the support of nearly 21 percent.

Two Republicans -- Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach and businessman John Cox -- are running for governor. Allen stood in third place, winning the support of 15 percent of voters who plan to cast ballots in the primary. Cox received the support of more than 11 percent -- and the difference between them was within the margin of error. Allen, a Huntington Beach state lawmaker, has little money but is a familiar face to state Republican Party activists. Cox, who is lesser known in state GOP circles, has put $3 million of his own money into his campaign.

According to the poll, 43 percent of Republican voters favored Allen and 33 percent backed Cox. A fair share of Republicans -- 15 percent -- sided with one of the Democrats. Villaraigosa topped that list, winning the favor of 6 percent of GOP voters.

The Republicans running for governor, on the other hand, were shunned by Democratic voters: Cox and Allen each had the support of about 1.5 percent of voters from the other party.

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