Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, whose gubernatorial hopes were dismissed as little better than a pipe dream last spring, has been steadily whittling away at Gov. George Deukmejian’s lead and now is threatening to make a real race of their fall election contest.
Helped by senior citizens, independents, Latinos and voters of the San Francisco Bay Area--many of them evidently persuaded by his attacks on Deukmejian’s toxics record--the underdog challenger has pulled to within 9 percentage points of the incumbent, based on the latest survey of The Los Angeles Times Poll.
But more important than the point spread is the trend--a slow, gradual shaving away of Deukmejian’s once-enormous lead. From 17 points behind in a Times poll of late March, Bradley moved to within 12 points by mid-May and to within 9 as of this week--a total narrowing of 8 points in less than four months.
Running Out of Time
Of course, Bradley would have to escalate that pace dramatically in order to catch Deukmejian by Election Day, now less than two months away. And working against the Democratic candidate is the fact that the Republican governor is entering the stretch drive with some significant advantages: Roughly 10 times as much campaign money (he expects to raise about $1 million more tonight at a Los Angeles dinner), a healthy economy that normally helps an incumbent, an Administration relatively free of major scandal and good image among the voters.
Beyond that, these two candidates--neither of whom are especially electrifying--already have been around the track together once with the voters, having four years ago run the closest race in a California gubernatorial election since 1902. Deukmejian won by a scant 1.2% of the votes cast.
The latest statewide Times Poll, directed by I.A. Lewis, ended Tuesday night after six days of telephone interviews with 1,550 registered voters. It showed Deukmejian leading by 45% to 36%, with 19% having no opinion. The margin of error for this size survey is 3% in either direction.
The interviewers also offered respondents the names of three minor party candidates who will be on the ballot--Libertarian Joseph Fuhrig, American Independent Garry V. Miller and Maria-Elizabeth Munoz of the Peace and Freedom Party--but there was virtually no support for any of these people.
The trend toward a closer race during the past several months has been unmistakable. Other independent polling organizations also have observed it. The California Poll, directed by Mervin Field, found that the mayor had picked up 11 points between early May and early August, moving from 22 points behind to 11. Polls by Steve Teichner for KABC-TV in Los Angeles showed the mayor narrowing the gap by 11 points, from a 17 point deficit to just 6, between May and last week.
One potential advantage for Bradley is that the nearly one-in-five voters who so far have no firm opinion about who should be California’s next governor normally would lean toward the Democratic candidate, if he could get them to the polls on Nov. 4. They tend to be Democrats or independents, who are liberal or apolitical; young, working-class people, perhaps in the service industries, with lower-to-middle incomes, and female. They also indicated they would be more likely than most to vote for a black.
One particular challenge for Bradley as he campaigns for undecided voters, however, is that they tend to reside in regions where Deukmejian’s lead is the largest--in locales outside the two major metropolitan centers of Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
In Los Angeles County, Deukmejian and Bradley are running almost even, with the governor holding a minuscule 2-point lead. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Bradley leads by a whopping 20 points. But in the rest of Northern California, Deukmejian enjoys an even bigger 31-point lead. And in Southern California outside of Los Angeles County, the governor is ahead by 17 points.
Strong on Toxics
It is in the San Francisco Bay Area--a traditional bastion for Democrats, where the environmentalist movement is strong--that Bradley has recorded some of his most spectacular gains since May, picking up 27 points on the governor. Even more so than most Californians, Bay Area voters said they are worried about toxic waste.
Among all Californians surveyed, the problem of drugs was chosen as the most important issue in the gubernatorial campaign. This was particularly true in Southern California outside of Los Angeles County. But in the Bay Area, the most important issue was toxic waste, which rated only No. 2 on the statewide list.
Bradley and Deukmejian, in their campaigning, have only just begun to capitalize on the voters’ increasing anxiety about drug addiction--a concern that certainly will intensify even more after President Reagan and his wife Nancy address the nation on the issue Sunday from the White House.
But Bradley has been hammering away at Deukmejian’s record on toxic waste management for months, making it the focal point of his campaign. It clearly has paid off politically. By an 18-point margin, voters felt Bradley would “do the best job of handling toxic waste disposal problems.”
Favored on Drug Issue
Deukmejian, a former state attorney general, was favored by 4 points as the man who “would do the best job of controlling drugs.”
There was a mixed message from senior citizens--in fact, all people over age 45. On the one hand, they are Deukmejian’s strongest supporters: People in the 45-64 age group favored him by 14 points; those over 65 gave him an 18-point bulge.
But on the other hand, it is among people over age 45 that Bradley has been the most successful at paring away Deukmejian’s lead since last March: whittling it by 12 points in the 45-64 group, and by 19 among those over age 65.
Voters under 45 support Bradley by a 3-point margin, representing only a slight gain for the mayor since last March.
Latinos have come aboard in significant numbers for Bradley since March. The Los Angeles mayor leads by a 2-1 ratio among Latinos, and has picked up 31 points in the past four months.
Blacks for Bradley
Blacks favor Bradley by 5 to 1. Whites support Deukmejian by 5 to 3--and whites represent roughly three-fourths of the electorate.
Independent voters--those registered neither as Democrats nor Republicans--have moved in Bradley’s direction. The mayor now is tied with the governor among these voters, after having gained 17 points since May. But independents represent only about one-tenth of the voters.
The big voter bloc is among Democrats, and The Times Poll found 25% of them to be backing the Republican governor. Bradley was getting just 54% of their votes--party support that he must improve on substantially in order to win. Republicans were more loyal to Deukmejian, supporting him 75% to 11%.
Voters have highly favorable impressions of both candidates--more so for Bradley, they said. The figures for Deukmejian were 68% favorable, 29% unfavorable; for Bradley, 78% favorable, 19% unfavorable.
Deukmejian’s “most important qualities,” according to his supporters, are experience and integrity. Bradley’s supporters like his “stands on the issues.”
BRADLEY vs DEUKMEJIAN
Among voters statewide
Bradley Deukmejian March 36% 53% May 34 46 September 36 45 Change 0 -8
Among voters in the Bay Area
Bradley Deukmejian March 38 47 May 36 43 September 52 32 Change +14 -15
Among voters who are Latinos
Bradley Deukmejian March 38 46 May 41 32 September 46 23 Change +8 -13
Among voters who are 65 or over
Bradley Deukmejian March 25 42 May 29 35 September 30 33 Change +5 -9
Which candidate would do the best job on toxic wastes?
Bradley Deukmejian March 25 18 May 36 11 September 38 20 Change +13 +2
Which candidate would be closer to special interests?
Bradley Deukmejian March 27 19 May 25 22 September 24 31 Change -3 +12
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll