Democrats Harris, Sanchez lead race for California U.S. Senate seat

Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks to delegates at the 2013 Democratic Party state convention in Sacramento.
Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks to delegates at the 2013 Democratic Party state convention in Sacramento. Associated Press file

Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez continue to lead the contest to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, but the all-Democratic dynamic could change once more Republican voters begin engaging in the race, according to the new Field Poll.

Harris holds a 12-point advantage over Sanchez among likely voters, 27 percent to 15 percent. The three best-known Republicans, Assemblyman Rocky Chávez and former state GOP chairmen Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, continue to lag in single digits.

The top two candidates in the primary, regardless of their party affiliation, advance to the general election under the state’s voter-approved election system. The Senate race would be the first partisan statewide contest to feature candidates from the same party since the jungle primary law took effect in 2012.

Harris leads Sanchez 27 percent to 15 percent. Three Republicans trail in single digits.

While the results largely mirror the last survey from October, suggesting the possibility of a marquee fall rematch between Harris and Sanchez, the poll found that twice as many Republicans and strong conservative voters are undecided as compared with their Democratic and strongly liberal counterparts.

Once GOP voters start weighing in, in larger numbers, they could push one of their own into the November runoff election, particularly if one candidate can garner more of their interest, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “That could come very late” in the June race, he said.

Another way for a Republican to make it into the fall election is if nonaligned voters continue to side with Harris over Sanchez, DiCamillo said.

Harris leads her intraparty rival 27 percent to 16 percent among voters who decline to state a party preference. Those voters also give Harris the best image rating of the field, 40 percent favorable vs. 12 percent unfavorable.

Among Democrats, Harris leads Sanchez 41 percent to 24 percent. She also maintains a six-point advantage over Sanchez among Republican voters.

Harris has a foothold with likely voters in her native San Francisco Bay Area, and does well with liberals. Sanchez leads among the state’s Latinos.

I have no idea at this point who is running for that spot.

Lynda Moses, a Republican from Placer County

The Republican candidates, meanwhile, have yet to make their mark. The poll found that just about three in 10 likely voters have an opinion of each of the three. With little money raised for voter outreach, and no institutional support from the party, it will be a tough slog for any of the three to put distance between them.

Lynda Moses, a Republican from Penryn in Placer County, said she has seen little activity from any of the GOP candidates, and doesn’t know their names. Moses, 34, said for more prominent races like the U.S. Senate she and her husband do their own research. In this case, they may have no other choice.

“I have no idea at this point who is running for that spot,” she said.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago