THE TIMES POLL : Many Voters Undecided in 6 Statewide Races


With the campaigns for the June 7 primary entering the home stretch, an overwhelming number of California voters still have not made up their minds in six contested statewide offices, a Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Many voters probably will wait until the final days or until they reach the polls to make their selections in these contested races for lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, treasurer, secretary of state, controller and state schools chief.

Voters remain undecided even though spirited campaigns for most of these offices are being mounted for the first time in years.

On the Democratic side, The Times Poll found that the most clearly defined race is the nasty contest for state treasurer, in which state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys) holds a 40% to 26% edge among likely Democratic voters over Phil Angelides, a Sacramento developer and former state Democratic Party chairman. But even here, 34% are undecided.

The statewide survey was conducted from May 21 to Wednesday--when Angelides was airing some of the strongest attack TV ads of the political season, linking Roberti to corruption in the Capitol and criticizing his anti-abortion stance.

The poll questioned 1,471 registered voters, including 326 likely Democratic voters and 268 likely Republican voters. The margin of error is 6 percentage points in either direction among likely Democratic voters and 7 percentage points among likely Republican voters.

In the GOP race for lieutenant governor, among all registered Republicans, state Sen. Cathie Wright enjoys a 25% to 15% advantage over Assemblyman Stan Statham, a rural north state lawmaker. However, 60% of Republicans have not made up their minds.

The race tightens to a dead heat among those Republicans who say they will go to the polls, with both aspirants drawing 21%. Still, nearly six out of 10 likely voters were undecided. The winner will face Controller Gray Davis, who has only token opposition in the Democratic primary to succeed retiring Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy.

Even though the future of public education is hotly debated, the contest for state schools chief seems to have generated the least interest of all, with seven in 10 of likely voters undecided even when offered the names of five major candidates.

Among likely voters, the poll found no clear front-runner to succeed former Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, who left the nonpartisan office after being convicted on conflict-of-interest charges.

But the top tier of candidates is bunched like this: Maureen DiMarco, Gov. Pete Wilson's education adviser, 9%; Joseph Carrabino, former state school board president, 7%; Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont), 6%; Wilbert Smith, a former Pasadena school board member, 5%, and Gloria Matta Tuchman, an Orange County elementary schoolteacher, 2%.

With such a high number of undecided voters, the gap between candidates is considered statistically insignificant, according to John Brennan, director of The Times Poll. This is the one statewide race in which voters of all parties can cast ballots for any candidate.

Eastin, with strong support among Democratic politicians, and other candidates are banking on a flurry of last-minute mailers and TV spots to boost their name identification enough to capture the primary contests.

Indeed, Brennan, who supervised the statewide survey, said: "An ounce of added name recognition or a favorably received occupation label on the ballot can shift results one way or the other. So things could change a great deal between now and Election Day and many voters will probably not choose a candidate until they are actually in the voting booth."

Brennan noted that voters could be swayed by a variety of factors, including the way candidates are identified on the ballot. He said that as a policy The Times Poll does not provide respondents with a candidate's ballot designation.

Ambitious politicians can turn these lesser statewide jobs into steppingstones to higher office the way Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. used the secretary of state's office 20 years ago as a platform to run for governor. Or, as usually happens, these obscure posts can turn into a ticket to political oblivion.

But the old political calculus about these jobs may be changing.

With politicians facing voter-imposed term limits, a large field of state legislators, such as Roberti, have jumped into races for statewide offices.

One obstacle they face is grabbing the attention of voters likely to be focused on the lively Democratic campaign for governor or the U.S. Senate primaries.

Another wild card for Democratic candidates is that women outnumber male voters. In 1992, 54% of those voting in the primary were women, according to a Times exit poll. But whether they will favor female candidates over men is unclear.

In the Democratic race to succeed Davis as state controller, political unknown Kathleen Connell, a Los Angeles financial consultant, registers 23% among likely voters--more than her two male rivals, Assemblyman Rusty Areias of San Jose and longtime Alameda County Supervisor Don Perata. Areias is favored by 15% to Perata's 12%. Forty-nine percent are undecided.

Areias said "Connell gets a bump because she's a woman" running against two men. But Brennan said there is no evidence from the poll that Connell is particularly strong among women.

In the GOP fight for controller, even more voters are undecided. Of those who say they plan to go to the polls, 62% have not made up their minds. Of these likely voters, 26% favor former Assemblyman Tom McClintock, a strong conservative from Thousand Oaks, to 12% for John Morris, a Los Angeles investor in shopping centers and son of the founder of Mervyn's department stores.

One post that is up for grabs is that of insurance commissioner. The job is being vacated by Democrat John Garamendi, the state's first elected commissioner, who is seeking his party's nomination for governor after four years in office.

On the Democratic side, veteran state Sen. Art Torres of Los Angeles holds a commanding advantage over his main rival, Assemblyman Burt Margolin of Los Angeles. Of those who say they plan to go to the polls, Torres captured 44% in the poll to Margolin's 14%. Forty-two percent said they were undecided.

The winner will square off against one of three Republicans vying for their party nomination. Among likely GOP voters, Assemblyman Charles Quackenbush is ahead with 18%, followed by Wes Bannister, the party's 1990 nominee, 11%, and Jim Conran, Wilson's former Department of Consumer Affairs director, 7%. Sixty-two percent of Republicans are undecided.

In the race for secretary of state, nearly half the likely Democratic primary voters say they are undecided.

Among the combatants, former Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo's support, at 29%, is more than double his closest rival, acting Secretary of State Tony Miller. Miller gets 13% of the likely voters, with Assemblywoman Gwen Moore of Los Angeles following at 10%. In the Republican primary, Assemblyman Bill Jones of Fresno is running unopposed.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Poll interviewed 1,984 California adults, by telephone, from May 21 through 25. The sample includes 1,471 registered voters, 662 of whom are Democrats and 542 Republicans. Of those groups, 326 are likely Democratic voters and 268 likely Republican voters. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. Interviewing was conducted in English and Spanish. The sample is weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education. The margin of sampling error for the total adult and registered voter samples is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For all registered Democrats and Republicans it is 4 and 5 points, respectively; for likely Democratic and Republicans voters it is 6 and 7 points, respectively. For certain other subgroups the error margin will vary. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

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