Rep. Robert Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) holds a 7-point lead over state Sen. Gary K. Hart in the hotly fought 19th Congressional District race--the toughest contest for Lagomarsino since he took office in a 1974 special election, according to a newspaper poll.
Spokesman in both camps reacted cautiously to the Santa Barbara News-Press survey this week.
"There's still a lot of the campaign left to go," said Lagomarsino campaign manager Ed Bedwell.
Hart's campaign manager, Jerry Seedborg, was more blunt.
"I'm extremely skeptical of all surveys," he said. "They presume too much--that at some point before an election a voter can predict what information they're going to know on Election Day. Even more than that, they assume that a voter can tell you what he's going to feel . . . and I feel that takes a pretty sophisticated person."
Still, he said he sees the close margin as a hopeful sign. "If that survey's accurate, we think that's an example of how vulnerable Lagomarsino's going to be."
The poll split the district, which spans Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, into three.
According to the poll, the seven-term congressman holds a decisive 63.8% to 29.3% advantage in Santa Barbara's conservative northern end, and maintains a 47.9% to 44.8% lead in Ventura County. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) leads 47.8% to 43.3% in Santa Barbara's south coast area.
Overall, voters lean to Lagomarsino by 49.5% to 42.6%, the poll indicated.
The poll was based on a survey of 387 people chosen as a cross-section of district voters. It contains a 5% margin of error overall, and a slightly greater margin of error for its conclusions about each of the three geographical areas.
Sonoma County pollster Richard Hertz, who conducted the survey, said the established reputations of both candidates in the district would make a major change of opinion between now and Election Day unlikely.
"Because these are candidates that are relatively well-known, there is less probability for a big swing of opinion," he said. "If there was a massive shift of opinion one way or another, that would be surprising."
But Seedborg said Hart is less well-known than Lagomarsino in northern Santa Barbara County, where Hart straggled in at just under 30%. He also pointed out that the poll followed 10 weeks of intensive Lagomarsino television campaigning in an area where Hart hadn't yet bought much time.
Familiar in Area
Bedwell countered that Hart should be familiar in the area since he has represented nearby cities in the Assembly and the Senate for 14 years, and represented Santa Maria before reapportionment in 1980.
"It's just that, as a rule, Republicans vote more Republican more often; they tend to defect less often," Hertz said. "To offset that advantage, a Democrat usually has to have more Democrats in the district."
For this reason, Hertz, a former reapportionment consultant, views the 19th District as a particularly tough one for Democrats. He estimated that Democrats may have to make up at least 50% of those who vote for Hart to win. "Hart does have a chance. He either has to hold more Democrats than they usually do or make inroads" into Republican ranks, he said.
Seedborg, however, pointed out that Hart's state Senate district has fewer registered Democrats than any other. "A tremendous number of people who register decline to state, but continue to vote Democratic," he said.
Closest Race to Date
The survey reinforces indications that this will be Lagomarsino's closest race yet. In 1980, he waltzed off with 77.7% of the vote. He has never received less than 60%.
"Nobody's ever spent a million dollars against him before, either," Bedwell said. "I'll take a victory margin of 7 points, you bet."
Both managers said they will pursue the campaign strategies already laid out.
"Voters make up their minds on how to vote in the last 10 days before the election, and our campaign will be there with television and mail and people going door-to-door, and they'll hear the message," Seedborg said.
Bedwell was similarly resolute. "If you've been in Congress for 14 years and 12 years before that in the California Senate, you obviously have a record. And you don't change that to run a campaign," he said.