California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, so far the only major candidate to have entered the race for Barbara Boxer's U.S. Senate seat, starts the campaign with 46% of likely voters saying they would be inclined to support her, according to a new Field Poll.
The survey found that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a fellow Democrat who is considering the race, has just 35% of likely voters inclined to back him.
With the field of candidates for the June 2016 primary still highly uncertain, the Field Poll used an unusual method to gauge public opinion on the matter. It asked likely voters whether they would be inclined or not inclined to support each of 18 potential candidates. Voters were able to state support for multiple candidates.
Democratic pollster Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research, which was not involved in the survey, said the main finding was clear.
"Kamala Harris clearly has a strong position as a front-runner here," she said.
The only name that fared better than Harris was former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a Republican who has stated she's not interested in running; 49% said they were inclined to back Rice, 39% said they were not.
Just behind Harris, four other Democrats were bunched just ahead of Villaraigosa: Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla of Pacoima, and Reps. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough and Rep. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove.
Three Republicans who are exploring whether to run -- former state GOP chairmen Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside -- did poorly in the survey: Only about one in five likely voters was inclined to back each of them, according to the survey.
Candidates in the Senate race have more than a year to file paperwork declaring they are running, but serious contenders who lack the wealth to fund their own campaigns will likely need to get in the race relatively soon in order to raise the millions of dollars they will need to advertise statewide.
The Field Poll's telephone survey of 972 likely voters was taken from Jan. 26 through Feb. 16. The margin of sampling error was 4.5 percentage points in either direction.