The latest poll in the race to succeed Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate gave a boost Thursday to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, putting him ahead of fellow Southern California Democrat Rep. Katie Porter and double digits in front of Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee, who’s struggling to get voters’ attention.
But Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll director Mark Di Camillo said the race remains a “wide-open affair.”
“About a third of voters remain undecided,” Di Camillo said. “That’s a lot of voters. Voters by and large haven’t tuned into the Senate race. So there are opportunities out there for Lee and even Republicans to increase their name recognition, but it’s also very expensive to do in California.”
The poll found 20% support for Schiff, 17% for Porter and 7% for Lee, the same as for leading Republican James Bradley and former baseball star Steve Garvey, a political novice who some Republicans are encouraging to run as a potential breakthrough candidate in the Democrat-dominated Golden State.
The results aren’t great news for Lee or the GOP. Though Lee has been in Congress since 1998, the poll found more than half of likely voters surveyed have no opinion of her, including 46% of Democrats. And she trails one or both of her leading Democratic rivals among key demographics to whom she’d be expected to appeal — those in the Bay Area, who are younger, women, LGBTQ and even Black voters.
It wasn’t much better for Republicans. Garvey, who was a star first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s and San Diego Padres in the 1980s and is rumored to be weighing a run, doesn’t poll any better at 7% than the little-known leading Republican in the race, Bradley, a Southern California corporate executive. Republican lawyer Eric Early, the only other significant GOP contender, polled at 5% in a race with Garvey.
If Garvey stays out of the race, Bradley’s support rises to 10% and Early’s to 7%. Di Camillo said that shows Garvey doesn’t yet have the crossover appeal to independents and centrist Democrats that might give a Republican a shot against Democrats who enjoy a two-to-one advantage over the GOP in voter registration.
“It was kind of deflating numbers for him,” Di Camillo said of Garvey. “His appeal really is just coming out of the conservative Republican base, just taking votes away from other Republicans.”
But Garvey polled better than Bradley and Early among Republican voters. University of California-San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser said unlike former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Garvey’s star has faded among most voters to whom both his baseball career and politics are unknown. That leaves room for him to make the case to voters.
“If he gets media attention for a month, he could develop that persona,” Kousser said.
Schiff has pulled ahead of Porter since the IGS’ most-recent poll on the Senate race in May. The congressman who led an impeachment case against former President Donald Trump has benefited from a lot of favorable free coverage thanks to Trump’s ongoing legal woes, Di Camillo said. His favorability figures have improved while negative impressions of him haven’t grown.
Schiff, who thanks to both an easy re-election and impressive fundraising has led the field in campaign money, had no comment on Thursday’s poll, his campaign said. Porter’s campaign also had no comment but sent out a fundraising pitch, referring to the poll and the Irvine congresswoman’s lead with young voters.
Lee’s campaign said that “when voters meet Congresswoman Lee, they prefer her consistent progressive record of getting things done and fighting for racial, climate and economic justice.”
“This race is just beginning,” Lee’s campaign said. “Congresswoman Lee is singularly focused on taking her message to the voters. An online poll from early in September doesn’t change that.”
Di Camillo and Kousser agreed that while the poll wasn’t encouraging for Lee’s campaign, it hardly dooms it. Di Camillo said Lee isn’t well known outside the Bay Area, and that many of the state’s strongly liberal voters and Black voters live in Southern California.
And mostly, voters just aren’t yet paying attention.
“We’ve got a long way to go from here,” Kousser said. “These numbers are in no way a death knell for Barbara Lee’s chances, but there’s nothing encouraging there either.”
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Lee maintains another potential avenue to the seat — Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to appoint a Black woman should Feinstein step down from her seat before her term expires at the end of next year. The poll found a slight majority overall and strong majority of Democrats favor the governor appointing someone prepared to run for a full term in 2024 rather than an interim placeholder. Lee is the only significant Democratic Black woman running.
The poll, partly funded by the Los Angeles Times, was administered online in English and Spanish Aug. 24-29 among 6,030 California registered voters, of whom 3,113 were considered likely to vote in the March 2024 primary election. The margin of error was estimated at plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.