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Kamala Harris has early lead in U.S. Senate contest

Antonio Villaraigosa would have faced uphill battle in race for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat

Contact: Merrill Balassone at or (213) 740-6156

A press call discussing these results is MONDAY, March 2 at 10 a.m. PT. Call-in spots are limited. Call-in number: (800) 230-1059; International: (612) 234-9959

Los Angeles, February 27, 2015 — Just days after Antonio Villaraigosa announced he would not run for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat, results from the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll show the former Los Angeles mayor trailed California Attorney General Kamala Harris by nearly double digits.

When asked who they would vote for in the primary election for the post, 28 percent chose Harris, 19 percent chose Villaraigosa, 9 percent chose Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, 6 percent chose Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside), 6 percent chose former California Republican Party chairman Tom Del Beccaro, and 5 percent chose U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). Twenty-three percent of voters were undecided.

White voters favored Harris over Villaraigosa by a near 3-to-1 margin, while 42 percent of Latino voters favored Villaraigosa, the poll showed. But when Villaraigosa’s supporters are reallocated to their second-choice candidates, Latino support for Harris doubled from 14 percent to 28 percent of voters.

“There may have been many good reasons for Villaraigosa not to run for the Senate, but the poll numbers were not among them,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. “He was only nine points behind Harris and had a 3-1 lead among Latino voters. His unfavorable ratings would have been an obstacle, but one that he could have overcome. The question is now whether another Southern California candidate will enter the race in his absence.”

Those considering a candidacy for the Senate seat include Schiff, Representatives Xavier Becerra and Loretta Sanchez, and former Army Secretary Louis Caldera.

Harris hasn’t yet earned name recognition among the majority of voters, the poll showed. Forty-seven percent of voters could identify Harris. Among those voters, 29 percent view her favorably as compared to 11 percent who view her unfavorably.

“Despite all the attention on the Senate race and the endorsements Kamala Harris has secured, Harris’ name identification is exactly the same now as it was before Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her retirement. It appears the public isn’t paying as much attention to this race yet as the insiders are,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, part of the bipartisan team with Republican polling firm American Viewpoint that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. “Harris is clearly in the position you’d want to start in, especially with Villaraigosa’s exit from the race, but the race is still pretty fluid.”

Added Michael Madrid, a distinguished Unruh Institute fellow and Republican strategist: “These findings suggest that the race for the U.S. Senate remains highly fluid and wide open. While Kamala Harris is clearly the front runner she is also the only candidate running. The long time between now and the close of filing means she is the only candidate that will be scrutinized by the media and the highly fluid numbers mean both her strengths and weaknesses will be magnified in the coming months.”

Voter groups who view Harris most favorably include Bay Area residents (48 favorable to 13 unfavorable), women (30-9), college graduates (39-13) and voters earning $100,000 or more per year (42-18). Twenty-one percent of Republican voters view Harris unfavorably as compared to 15 percent who view her favorably.

“By no means does Kamala Harris have the Senate election locked up,” said David Kanevsky, vice president of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. “The Republican vote is divided right now and if you have a bunch of unknown, underfunded Republicans divide the Republican vote, that is how you can potentially end up with two Democrats in the general election. The key for Republicans is to find either a well-known or well-funded candidate or a candidate who has a compelling life story who can get well-known.”

Matt Rodriguez, a distinguished Unruh Institute fellow and Democratic strategist, said: “With Antonio Villaraigosa out of the Senate race, Kamala Harris’ structural advantages - fundraising, local and national political support, and her ability to make news as Attorney General - will continue growing over the course of the next year. It might make her a big target for her opponents, but it will be a tall task to overcome that star power.”

The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, was conducted Feb. 18-24 and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The full sample of 1,505 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.

Additional poll results and methodology are available here.


TWITTER: @usclatpoll

About the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll: The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is a series of statewide public opinion polls in California, designed to survey voter attitudes on a wide range of political, policy, social and cultural issues.

Conducted at regular intervals throughout the year, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is one of the largest polls of registered voters in the state and has been widely cited, helping to inform the public and to encourage discourse on key political and policy issues.

About USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the heart of the university. The largest, oldest and most diverse of USC’s 19 schools, USC Dornsife is composed of more than 30 academic departments and dozens of research centers and institutes. USC Dornsife is home to approximately 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 750 faculty members with expertise across the humanities, social sciences and sciences.

About the Los Angeles Times: The Los Angeles Times is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a daily readership of 2 million and 3 million on Sunday, and a combined print and interactive local weekly audience of 4.5 million. The fast-growing draws over 10 million unique visitors monthly.