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Sanders, Biden and Warren in three-way race in California as primary nears

Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- A California poll of likely Democratic voters found that no one presidential candidate is dominating the contest, leading to a three-way race that could easily change in the seven weeks before the March 3 primary election.

The survey, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, found that among likely Democratic primary voters, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont led with 27%; former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts followed with 24% and 23%, respectively. The rest of the field remained in the single digits.

"It literally could not be any tighter," Dan Newman, a neutral Democratic strategist, said of the poll.

"Even people who have a favorite right now, I wouldn't be surprised if they changed their minds," depending on the performance of their preferred candidate in the coming weeks, Newman said.

In September, a survey conducted for the Los Angeles Times found Warren with a significant lead in California over her rivals. But a December poll showed that Biden and Warren lost ground in the state among likely Democratic primary voters, as Sanders took a small lead.

The institute's recent poll showed signs that more California voters had settled on a candidate compared to voters in Iowa, who face a barrage of candidate appearances and advertising over an extended period of time, said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, who is unaffiliated in the race.

"You'd think that would lead one to make up their mind," he said, "but that's clearly not happening as quickly as it is here in California."

The institute also asked voters which candidate they believed had the best chance to beat President Donald Trump, and 46% of likely voters favored Biden. Among younger voters, between the ages of 18 and 44, 39% saw Sanders as the most viable candidate. Biden led with 56% support with those aged 45 and over.

The advantage of being considered the candidate who can beat Trump is the "bedrock" of Biden's candidacy, Carrick said, and it's a trend that continues in the state.


Notably, Biden is favored in Los Angeles, with 30% of Angelenos' support. His popularity could be due to time spent here advocating for local issues such as raising the minimum wage, Carrick said.

Other candidates outside of the top three, he said, are at a disadvantage to win support in a state with a complex electorate that changes by region and demographic. California is not a winner-take-all state when it comes to its 495 delegates, which are allotted on a proportional basis by congressional district to any candidate who gets at least 15% of the vote. In a tight race, every delegate counts, presenting a challenge for candidates such as former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who only received 6% from likely voters, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who came in at 1%, despite his efforts to flood the state's media market with ads.

"It's just a really complicated place," Carrick said, "and it's very hard to get known here."

The PPIC surveyed 530 likely Democratic primary voters, and the sampling error is plus or minus 6.5 percent.

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