Phil Angelides has erased rival Steve Westly’s lead in the Democratic primary contest for governor, making the race a tossup as the two dash into the final 10 days of the campaign, a new Los Angeles Times poll has found.
The lack of a clear front-runner ensures a fiercely competitive fight in the closing phase of a match already notable for scathing character attacks.
If the June 6 election were held today, likely Democratic primary voters would favor Angelides over Westly, 37% to 34%. That is a statistical tie, given the poll’s margin of sampling error: plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The poll found 28% of likely voters undecided, an unusually large proportion at this late stage of the campaign.
Despite the close margin and huge undecided bloc, the poll found stagnation for Westly, the state controller, and strong momentum for Angelides, the state treasurer.
In a Times survey last month, Westly led Angelides, 33% to 20%. This time, Westly has hardly budged, while Angelides has leapt 17 points, thanks largely to surging support among liberals and union members, two of the party’s biggest constituencies.
But public opinion on both men is highly unstable. Both were barely known to most voters until recent weeks. Neither candidate has a strong base of support; 41% of likely voters who support Westly or Angelides might change their minds. And a raging battle of negative TV commercials still could shift public perceptions significantly.
Angelides’ ads slamming Westly for breaking his vow not to run negative spots have led poll respondent Phyllis Schissel to question Westly’s integrity. “If he breaks that promise, what else is he saying he’s going to do that he’s not going to do?” the Democrat, a school speech pathologist, said in a follow-up interview.
Westly ads nudged Whittier housewife Beatrice McLaren in the opposite direction. “I was leaning toward Angelides, but I’m not leaning that way anymore,” said McLaren, 85, a Democrat alarmed by a Westly ad saying Angelides took campaign money from oil companies.
Despite the surge by Angelides, likely voters in the Democratic primary still say, when asked to compare the two, that Westly has a better chance of ousting Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in November.
And, separately, the poll also found Westly performing stronger than Angelides in hypothetical November contests against Schwarzenegger.
If the election were held today, registered voters would prefer Westly over Schwarzenegger, 50% to 40%. Angelides was virtually tied with the governor, 46% to Schwarzenegger’s 45%.
“Anybody but Schwarzenegger,” said Westly supporter Lauren Hart, 45, a Pleasanton computer-network administrator. “Get him out.”
The tightening of the Democratic race is partly a matter of changed circumstances. When polls last month found Westly with a solid lead, he was promoting himself in television ads during a three-week period when Angelides -- working on a tighter budget -- was not on the air.
Now, however, voters have been exposed for several weeks to a two-man battle of television advertising, the main tool for candidates to communicate with California voters. Besides Angelides’ own ads, his business partner, Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos, has promoted him in a multimillion-dollar independent effort.
A month ago, “you were looking at a very unfocused electorate that only saw Westly’s ads every day, saying how wonderful he is,” and now it is “10 days out, where the campaign’s gotten more intense,” Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus said.
At this point, the poll found, neither Democrat has established an edge in some key areas. They score roughly the same on the environment. And most likely voters in the primary view both as honest or trustworthy, despite the attack ads.
Angelides has pulled ahead on the question of which Democrat would do the best job on public education, long the top issue for Democrats. But Westly has maintained his lead on the economy and state budget.
In the primary, Westly has lost the lead he held last month among a broad swath of likely Democratic primary voters. (Independent voters will be allowed to cast a ballot in major party primaries this year.) Most significant, liberals and union members have tilted toward Angelides, the favored candidate of the party establishment and organized labor.
Retired electrical contractor John W. Albright of Fresno, who has just begun to evaluate the two Democrats, said the union mail he had received recommending Angelides would influence his vote. The union “is really pushing” Angelides, he said.
Although liberals constitute 52% of likely Democratic primary voters, Westly has maintained his lead among those who do not describe themselves as liberal, according to the poll.
Despite the acrimony, a strong majority still views both Westly and Angelides favorably. But among all registered voters, Westly has built a slightly more positive image.
“I get a cleaner feeling from Westly than I do from Angelides,” said Democrat Robin Bryant, 57, an Oakland job placement counselor.
As for Schwarzenegger, the poll found little change in his public standing, despite a recent cascade of good news, such as a jump in tax collections that enabled him to enlarge his school budget and a bipartisan deal on bonds to build and fix schools, roads and levees.
The poll found 44% of registered voters approve of Schwarzenegger’s job performance and 51% disapprove.
A core liability in Schwarzenegger’s reelection effort is his education record: 38% approve of his handling of public schools and 53% disapprove, a possible lingering effect of his pounding last year by the state’s teachers.
Overall, Schwarzenegger’s campaign for a second term remains a challenge. Just 32% of registered voters say they will probably or definitely vote for him, while 47% say they probably or definitely will not.
The poll also illustrates the political minefields that he faces as he tries to appeal to Democrats and independents without alienating his Republican base.
His efforts to broaden his support this year have yielded at least one sign of progress: His approval rating among independents rose from 29% to 40% over the last month.
At the same time, his job rating is stuck at 70% among Republicans, and 59% among conservatives -- in both cases well below what he needs under any plausible scenario for reelection. One in four conservatives say they probably or definitely will not vote for him.
One source of trouble for Schwarzenegger -- and for other incumbents -- is the sour mood of Californians. Barely a third of registered voters see the state as generally moving in the right direction while 55% say things are seriously off track.
Beyond the race for governor, Californians face primaries for several other statewide offices June 6, along with two ballot measures.
In the Democratic primary for attorney general, the poll found Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown trouncing Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, 60% to 27%.
Likely voters in the primary are much more familiar with Brown, a former California governor and presidential candidate: 67% hold a favorable impression of him, but 64% know so little about Delgadillo that they have no opinion about him.
The winner of that primary will face Republican state Sen. Chuck Poochigian of Fresno in November. The poll found 91% of registered voters know too little about Poochigian to form an opinion about him.
In the Democratic race for controller, television ads portraying Joe Dunn as a crusader against Enron seem to have given the Santa Ana state senator a slight edge over state Board of Equalization member John Chiang. Among likely voters, Dunn led, 25% to 20%.
Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi continues to lead the Democratic contest for lieutenant governor, although television ads introducing his opponents, state Sens. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough and Liz Figueroa of Fremont, have been airing for just a few days. The poll found Garamendi leading among likely voters with 30%, followed by Speier at 16% and with Figueroa, 11%.
In other races, the poll found many candidates are still a mystery to likely voters.
In the Democratic primary for secretary of state, most know too little to have a preference between state Sens. Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey and Deborah Ortiz of Sacramento, who are tied at 21% apiece.
It was likewise for the Republican primaries for controller and treasurer.
Republicans running for treasurer are state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria and former Assemblyman Tony Strickland of Moorpark, and those running for treasurer are Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge and state Board of Equalization member Claude Parrish. No one has taken a clear lead in either contest.
In the Democratic primary for insurance commissioner, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante leads his rival, South Pasadena businessman John Kraft, 59% to 20%.
Of the two statewide measures on the ballot, the one with the most support is Proposition 81, a $600-million bond proposal to build and renovate libraries. Most likely voters in the election knew too little about it to take a stand until they were read the full ballot description. Then 55% favored it and 39% opposed it.
Proposition 82, filmmaker Rob Reiner’s plan to establish free preschool for all 4-year-olds by raising income taxes on Californians who make more than $400,000 a year, is slightly less popular. When read the full ballot description, 51% of likely voters favored it and 43% opposed it.
In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Dianne Feinstein faces no well-known opponent in the Democratic primary, and former state Sen. Richard Mountjoy of Monrovia is the only Republican running for her seat. If the November election were held today, registered voters would favor Feinstein over Mountjoy, 59% to 30%.
A key advantage for Feinstein is familiarity: 55% of registered voters have a favorable impression of the senator, 35% unfavorable, while 91% have no opinion about Mountjoy.
The survey, supervised by Pinkus, included 1,542 registered voters contacted by telephone from May 20 to 25. Among them were 836 voters likely to cast ballots in the June 6 election, including 424 in the Democratic primary and 343 in the Republican primary.
The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for registered voters and all likely voters in the June 6 elections. The margin is plus or minus 5 percentage points for likely voters in each of the party primaries.
Times Associate Polling Director Jill Darling Richardson and Data Management Supervisor Claudia Vaughn contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
If the Democratic primary were held today, for whom would you vote?
Don’t know or other
If the candidates in the November election were Arnold Schwarzenegger and. . .*
Steve Westly, a Democrat?
Don’t know or other
Phil Angelides, a Democrat?
Don’t know or other
*Asked of all registered voters
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll
How the voters are leaning
Asked of likely Democratic primary voters
Q. How certain are you that you are going to vote for that candidate?
Might vote for somebody else:42%
Might vote for somebody else:53%
Might vote for somebody else:40%
Might vote for somebody else:52%
Q. Which candidate would be best at handling...
the state’s budget?
Q. Which candidate would have a better chance of beating Arnold Schwazenegger?
Asked of all likely voters
Q. If the June 2006 primary election were being held today, would you vote for the following measures?
Proposition 81:* The California Reading and Literacy Improvement and Public Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act of 2006.
Vote for: 55%
Vote against: 39%
Don’t know: 6%
Proposition 82:* The Preschool Education, Tax on Incomes Over $400,000 for Individuals and $800,000 for Couples Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
Vote for: 51%
Vote against: 43%
Don’t know: 6%
Asked of all registered voters
Q. What is your impression of.....
Don’t know/Haven’t heard:4%
Don’t know/Haven’t heard:40%
Don’t know/Haven’t heard:43%
Don’t know/Haven’t heard:76%
Don’t know/Haven’t heard:32%
Don’t know/Haven’t heard:94%
Don’t know/Haven’t heard:11%
Don’t know/Haven’t heard: 93%
Q. If the November 2006 general election for U.S. senator were being held today and the candidates were Dianne Feinstein and Richard Mountjoy, a Republican, for whom would you vote?
Someone else: --
Don’t know: 11%
*Full/exact wording of questions, poll results and analysis can be found at www.latimes.com/timespoll
Note: '--' indicates less than 0.5%
How the poll was conducted: The Times Poll contacted 1,994 California adults by telephone May 20-25. Among them were 1,542 registered voters, of whom 836 were deemed likely to vote in the June 6 primary (424 in the Democratic primary and 343 in the Republican primary). Likely voters were determined by a screening process that included questions on intention to vote, certainty of vote, first-time voter, interest in the campaign, absentee voting and past voting history. Telephone numbers were randomly selected from a list of all exchanges in the state, allowing contact with both listed and unlisted numbers. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census proportions for sex, ethnicity, age, education, region and the secretary of state’s report of party registration. The margin of sampling error for all adults, registered voters and likely voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for Democratic and Republican primary likely voters it is plus or minus 5. For certain other subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interview were conducted in both English and Spanish.
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll