Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, polled the California Senate race for an unknown client. The first thing I look at is the party breakdown. In California we know who votes based on party and adjust our polls to match that party breakdown. The poll is 45%D/32%R. While that sounds like a reasonable 2016 general election breakdown, the primary breakdown is more likely to be far more Republican. It’ll be something like 44%D/37%R based on previous primaries. As regular readers of this blog know, the 2014 primary was a little more Democratic than 2012, although the general election was definitely more Republican. So I wouldn’t anticipate the 2016 primary to be any more Democratic than 2014.
That said, it's a remarkably good poll for Republicans. Tom McClintock is in the lead and the two Republicans take 40-41%. McClintock leads with NPP voters and the GOP actually takes 50% of NPP voters in the second pool. This is a Democratic polling firm doing a poll with less Republicans than will be in the election and there are undecideds. Yet it’s at the 40% that was the Republican floor in all but one statewide primary in 2014.
McClintock has been around for awhile and has run statewide before. So he’s well known to Republican and right leaning votes. He is, however, unlikely to run. The other Republican in the field, Neel Kashkari, raised his profile with his 2014 gubernatorial run. What his poll doesn’t tell us is how the Republicans will do if 1) there are anywhere around the 14 candidates who ran in 2012 2) Republicans with a low name recognition run. In 2012 there were no Republicans with name recognition and none got more than 12.6%. If no Republican gets more than that, it’s possible Democrats will get both candidates in the top two.
The Democratic field here is three elected politicians and Tom Steyer. While it’s likely that there’ll be more Democratic candidates than that there might not be more than four serious ones. Kamala Harris beats the field significantly in each race. In the first race she’s up against Steyer, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, and rep. Loretta Sanchez from Anaheim. Garcetti won’t run but Steyer and Sanchez are possibilities. In the second horse race the pollster substituted rep. Jackie Speier for Garcetti. In this scenario Harris drops from 27% to 22%. The other Democrats don’t get a higher share, however, as the not sure goes up instead. This likely happens because the second field replaces an LA county politician for one from the Bay area. This probably increases the Southern California voters who aren’t sure, while Speier takes away votes from Harris.
This says that while a Bay area politician isn’t going to beat Harris, such a challenge could eat into Harris’ Bay area base enough that she loses to a Southern California politician. The top Southern California politicians who are considering entering the race, Treasurer John Chiang and former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, weren’t included in either poll. If either enters the race they could be a serious challenger to Harris.