Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez’s chances of surviving past Tuesday’s primary rely heavily on just a few pockets of California voters, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found.
Latino voters strongly prefer the Orange County congresswoman, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, over Democratic front-runner Kamala Harris. Sanchez and Harris are statistically tied among voters who support Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders.
3:45 p.m.: A previous version of this article contained errors in the figures related to Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters, those related to Harris’ support and in the numbers of people who aren’t closely following the Senate race.
Still, Harris has maintained her perch atop the field of 34 candidates in the race to succeed the retiring Barbara Boxer, and the state attorney general is practically a lock to be on the ballot in November.
The survey found 28% of registered voters in California supported Harris, compared with 20% for Sanchez. Harris’ support is even stronger among Californians most likely to vote in Tuesday’s primary, with 34% favoring her compared with 14% for Sanchez.
Sanchez remains firmly in the No. 2 position, but not far enough ahead of Republicans George “Duf” Sundheim or Tom Del Beccaro to rest comfortably.
The survey also found that most of Sanchez’s supporters were not strongly in her camp, making it easier for them to be lured away in the final days of the race. That, combined with the fact that roughly a quarter of California voters are undecided and most of them Republicans, provides her GOP challengers with an outside chance to prevail.
“Her support is still somewhat weak and is likely dependent on turnout,” said Ben Winston of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the Democratic half of the team of polling firms that conducted the USC/L.A. Times poll.
Under California’s “top-two” primary rules, every voter will receive a ballot with all 34 Senate candidates and can choose only one. The two candidates who receive the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to the November general election.
Republican political consultant Mike Madrid expects Sanchez will do well enough Tuesday to win a ticket to the Nov. 8 election, setting up the highest profile intra-Democratic Party political battle since California starting using top-two primaries in 2012.
Madrid said the “best thing going” for Sanchez in the primary is the lack of a consensus Republican candidate.
Del Beccaro and Sundheim, Bay Area attorneys who both served as chairmen of the California Republican Party, each had 6% support among registered voters, the poll found. Republican Ron Unz, who championed a 1998 initiative to end bilingual education in California, was backed by just 4%.
All three Republicans remain largely unknown to California voters and have failed to raise enough campaign money to change that before Tuesday, Madrid said. The survey found just nominal differences in support for Sundheim and Del Beccaro among tea party loyalists and establishment GOP voters.
Nine other Republicans also are on the ballot, which increases the chances of seeing a splintered GOP electorate.
“The Republican votes are going to be all over the place,” Madrid said.
Harris, who won two statewide campaigns for state attorney general, emerged as the clear front-runner almost immediately after jumping into the Senate race in January 2015. She has been by far the most successful fundraiser, collecting just over $11 million — twice the amount raised by all 33 of her opponents combined.
Harris also has become the clear favorite of the Democratic establishment, receiving endorsements by the California Democratic Party and Gov. Jerry Brown. Among likely Senate primary voters, Harris was supported by 56% of Democrats, 44% of self-described moderates and 57% of Hillary Clinton general election supporters, the survey found. She also leads in Los Angeles County, the Bay Area, the coast and the Central Valley.
Latinos — who account for an estimated 4.1 million registered voters in California — continued to be Sanchez’s strongest base of support. The poll found that the congresswoman was backed by 43% of Latino registered voters, compared with 16% for Harris and single digits for the top GOP contenders. Sanchez’s advantage remains solid even within the narrower field of Latinos likely to vote on Tuesday, with 41% support compared with 20% for Harris.
Sanchez also was statistically even with Harris among voters who favor Sanders, the Democratic senator from Vermont whose battle for the Democratic nomination has energized anti-establishment voters nationwide. Among likely voters for Sanders, 31% backed Sanchez compared with 34% for Harris – which is within the poll’s margin of error. Sanchez also holds an edge among voters aged 18 to 29, and among voters who earned at most a high school diploma.
Brad Jerger, a freelance graphic artist from Oakland who took part in the poll, is among the Sanders supporters who is also backing Sanchez. She won him over because she “seems more supportive of a universal healthcare system” than Harris, and he’s strongly in favor of replacing the Affordable Care Act with a single-payer healthcare model.
“She seems like she is aligned more with Bernie Sanders,” the 34-year-old Democrat said. “I’m still deciding. I have my ballot. But I haven’t finished it yet.”
Democrat Maeve Richard of Palo Alto, who also took part in the survey, said she “loves Bernie” but is supporting Harris in the Senate race.
“What I really like is who she represents. I happen to be African American and I happen to be female. And I think that’s what initially attracted me,” said Richard, 60, who heads the career center at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “She is respected and seasoned and capable.”
Harris is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, and has said her mother raised her and her sister, Maya, to be proud African American women.
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, expects Sanchez’s performance in the June primary to get a lift by the backlash against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and the wave of Californians who registered to vote as a result.
“The base of Sanchez’s support, Latinos and young people, are those Californians who are most likely to be opposed to Trump and his message on immigration,” Schnur said. “If these voters do turn out on election day, it’s going to be mostly for anti-Trump purposes.”
Among the 27% of registered voters who said they remained undecided about the Senate contest and are not following the race closely, 38% blamed the nation’s wild presidential race for gobbling up most of their political interest. About a quarter said they simply didn’t have the time to follow the Senate race.
A narrow majority of those polled said they favored California’s top-two primary system, versus the traditional general election matchup between a Democrat and a Republican. Democrats and independent voters also supported the top-two primaries, while a majority of Republicans preferred the old way.
The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll canvassed 1,500 registered state voters by telephone from May 19 to 31. The margin of sampling error overall is 2.9 percentage points.