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The Times Poll : Still No Front-Runner in GOP Senate Contest

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

No candidate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination has yet been able to generate any meaningful support statewide or take discernable advantage of the messy squabble between two of the contenders, Rep. Bobbi Fiedler and state Sen. Ed Davis, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

And although criminal charges against Fiedler were dismissed, California voters emphatically believe it would have been unethical for her to follow through with an offer to help pay off Davis’ $100,000 campaign debt if he had dropped out of the race, the survey showed.

Regardless of the wounds these two San Fernando Valley lawmakers inflicted on each other, however, both have managed to remain in the tightly bunched pack of leading candidates for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, nobody in the contest has been able to establish anything but a “regional candidacy” or make any real progress in the long-distance race against Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston.

Asked whom they would support if the June primary election were being held today, Republican voters lined up this way: former Los Angeles television commentator Bruce Herschensohn, 12%; Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, 9%; Davis, 9%; Fiedler, 7%, and Rep. Ed Zschau of Los Altos, 5%.

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Then came, with 2% each, retired Oakland newspaper publisher Joseph William Knowland, economist Arthur Laffer and Assemblyman Robert Naylor of Menlo Park, followed by former Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver, 1%. Prof. Bill Allen of Harvey Mudd College recorded less than a half percent. Fifty-one percent of the GOP voters said they were undecided, mainly because they had not heard enough about any of the candidates.

The interviews were conducted by telephone between March 22 and 27. In all, 1,234 registered voters were surveyed, including 457 Republicans. The results failed to turn up a real front-runner, however, since only seven percentage points separated the top five candidates and there was a five-point statistical margin of error in either direction for this size sample of GOP voters.

During the seven-week period since a similar Times poll between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, three candidates registered slight gains: Antonovich and Davis, four points each, and Herschensohn, three points. Fiedler and Laffer both dropped by one point. Zschau and Naylor remained the same. The big bloc of undecided voters, meanwhile, was reduced by nine points.

Independent Poll

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The results of the Times poll contrasted somewhat with these findings released Monday by the independent California Poll: Davis 14%, Herschensohn 12%, Fiedler 12%, Zschau 11%, Antonovich 9%, Laffer 8%, Naylor 5%, others 1%, undecided 28%.

What the Times poll found was that each major candidate was having serious problems appealing to voters outside his home base. The most obvious example was TV commentator Herschensohn, who recorded all of his support within Southern California.

In Southern California, the standings were Herschensohn 20%, Antonovich 14%, Davis 12%, Fiedler 9%, Laffer 2%, Zschau 2%, others 2%, undecided 39%.

By the same token, Zschau picked up practically all of his support in Northern California, where voters were a lot more undecided than in the south, probably because of their unfamiliarity with the southern-based candidates.

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In Northern California, the standings were: Zschau 10%, Davis 5%, Knowland 5%, Naylor 5%, Fiedler 3%, Antonovich 2%, Cleaver 2%, Laffer 2%, others 1%, undecided 65%.

Strength in South

The advantage for southern-based candidates, obviously, is that roughly 60% of the state’s Republican voters are in Southern California.

Matched against Cranston, the three-term Democratic incumbent, Antonovich fared the best of the GOP aspirants in this poll, trailing by 17 points among all registered voters. For this sample, the margin of error in either direction was 3%.

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After Antonovich came Davis, 19 points; Herschensohn 23 points; Zschau 23 points, and Fiedler, 28 points. The only candidate to record even slight improvement in this mythical match-up since the last Times poll was Zschau, who closed the gap by three points.

The voters’ distaste for the bitter Fiedler-Davis episode was reflected by their decidedly negative impressions of Fiedler, as recorded in interviews, and also by a bit of resentment of Davis for bringing charges against her in the first place.

The GOP voters’ impressions of Fiedler were 37% unfavorable and only 26% favorable, a negative rating that would be difficult for most any major candidate to overcome during the two months remaining before primary election day.

Indictment Damage

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Asked whether they would be “more likely” or “less likely” to vote for Fiedler because of her grand jury indictment and the court’s subsequent dismissal of charges on Feb. 26, only 4% of the voters said they would be more likely. But 40% answered “less likely,” meaning she potentially faces a net 36% drop-off in support because of the episode.

But Davis also suffered a potential 27% net loss of support, with only 4% saying they would be “more likely” to vote for him because of his role in the controversy, and 31% answering they would be “less likely.”

Fiedler has contended that she did not offer to help pay off Davis’ $100,000 campaign debt in order to entice him out of the race, asserting that she discussed the matter with his representative only after assuming he was about to withdraw from the contest. A Superior Court, as well as Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, ultimately agreed that there was not enough evidence to try her.

Issue of Ethics

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Regardless of the circumstances, however, 70% of the GOP voters said they considered it “not ethical” for “one political candidate to pay off the campaign debts of another candidate who drops out of competition for the same political office.”

The voters’ impression of Davis basically was favorable--%33% to 21%--but not as good, proportionately, as it was for the other three major, but lesser known, candidates: Antonovich 28%-4%, Herschensohn 30%-5% and Zschau 26%-2%. The vast majority of voters did not know enough about these candidates, however, to have any impression.

Additionally, Davis faces a potential 25% net loss of Republican votes because of his 1984 support of an equal employment opportunity bill for homosexuals, according to those surveyed.


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