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Poll: Newsom, Villaraigosa lead pack in California governor's race as Feinstein's reelection bid is sailing

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa top the field in California’s race for governor, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has a dominant lead in her bid for reelection.

But a third of likely voters polled in California don’t know who they will vote for in either race, meaning there’s plenty of room for jockeying among the candidates as the June primary election approaches.

PPIC President Mark Baldassare said he was surprised about the number of undecided voters given that these races are for California’s two most coveted political posts.

“It seems high to me, especially in the Senate race when you have an incumbent running,” Baldassare said.

He said that Californians appear to be more politically engaged than in years past but that most of their attention is focused on the daily machinations in Washington with the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress.

In the 2018 race for governor, Newsom was backed by 23% of likely voters, with Villaraigosa trailing close behind with 18% support, according to the survey. Both Newsom and Villaraigosa are Democrats.

The rest of the major candidates hovered in the single digits.

Among the other Democrats, state Treasurer John Chiang was favored by 9% of likely voters, and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin by 3%. Among the Republicans, Rancho Santa Fe attorney John Cox was backed by 9% of likely voters, and Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen came in at 6%. More than half of those polled said they had never heard of Cox, Allen or Eastin, and a third were unfamiliar with Chiang.

The PPIC survey shows a slightly tighter race between Newsom and Villaraigosa than the margin in a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released in early November.

In the Senate race, Feinstein, a Democrat, leads by more than a 2-to-1 margin over her biggest rival in her bid for a fifth full term in the U.S. Senate.

According to the poll, 45% of likely voters supported Feinstein compared with 21% who backed her fellow Democratic rival, state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

Baldassare said De León’s biggest challenge is overcoming obscurity: Close to half of the voters polled said they had never heard of him.

“I think it’s a wake-up call for De León,” Baldassare said. “You can be a very high-profile person in Sacramento, but that doesn’t necessary mean that people around the state know who you are.”

But the primary election is six months away, and the Senate race still lacks a high-profile Republican candidate. That increases the odds that both Feinstein and De León, under California’s top-two primary system, could finish in the top two in the June primary and face off again in the November general election.

Feinstein drew criticism from liberal voters earlier this year when she called for “patience” in dealing with President Trump. De León quickly criticized her remarks, appearing to capitalize on Trump’s deep unpopularity among California Democrats.

phil.willon@latimes.com

Twitter: @philwillon

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