Field Poll: Dems win in CA, schools chief close

Field Poll: Dems win in CA, schools chief close

California Election 2014It isn’t over till it’s over, Yogi Berra famously said. But in California’s partisan statewide races, it might be just about over for Republican challengers to Democrats. But the nonpartisan race for superintendent of public instruction remains too close to call.

In the Field Poll released today, the last before next Tuesday’s election, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown holds a commanding, 21-point lead over Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, 54 percent to 33 percent.

Brown has conducted scarcely any campaign at all, largely paying for TV ads featuring him touting Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond measure; and Proposition 2, for a stronger rainy-day fund.

The Brown Magic, under the slogan, “California is back!” has transcended a national trend of voters revolting against governors in states with sluggish economies. Also today, the Wall Street Journal featured a front-page story headlined, “How the Economy Is Stoking Voter Anger at Incumbent Governors.” Subhead, “Despite rising consumer confidence, Republican and Democratic governors struggle in Florida, Colorado, Michigan and Connecticut.”

Nowhere in the article are Brown and California mentioned. Yet California’s economy, despite surface appearances and soaring Silicon Valley, is sluggish at best. Its unemployment rate in September was 7.3 percent, fourth worst among the states — and higher than all four states featured in the Wall Street article.

And California’s poverty rate, when the cost of living is taken into account, remains the nation’s worst.

Kashkari has tried to cash in on such realities, such as by spending a week as a homeless person. But nothing has caught on in a battle against an incumbent governor who learned state politics at the knee of his father seven decades ago.

Superintendent of public instruction

The major race up for grabs is for the officially non-partisan office of superintendent of public instruction. The two candidates, incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck, are neck-and-neck at 28 percent. Both are Democrats. Torlakson comes from the currently dominant teachers-union faction in the party, while Tuck comes from the newer faction of education reformers.

Undecideds come in at a high 44 percent, compared to just 13 percent undecided in the governor’s race.

The party breakdowns also are pretty close. The most interesting one is that Torlakson gets just 28 percent, the same as overall, among his fellow Democrats, not a good sign. Tuck does drop 4 points, to 24 percent, among Democrats. But the undecideds rise to 48 percent.

Basically, even his fellow Democrats — supposedly the party of his major union backers — aren’t keen on keeping Torlakson around.

Among Republicans, Tuck is ahead, 32-25, with 43 percent undecided. Given that this likely is a “Republican” year for voting — with Democrats not having as much reason to turn out at the polls — that could be good news for Tuck.

Among the increasingly large “No party preference” section of the electorate, Torlakson gains his largest lead, with 31 percent. Although Tuck holds his own, at 28 percent, with 41 percent undecided.

The race for this office may be the principal beneficiary of the Top Two reform, which voters passed as Proposition 14 in 2010. Although the superintendent’s office is non-partisan, party identification still creeps in strongly.

Under the old system, several candidates would be on the Nov. 4 ballot, one of them a Republican with little chance of winning in a Democratic state.

But Top Two cut out all but two candidates, both Democrats, allowing Tuck to challenge an incumbent who otherwise would have been entrenched.

Lieutenant governor

The race for lieutenant governor sees Republican challenger Ron Nehring pulling within 10 points of incumbent Democrat Gavin Newsom, 47-37. Newsom is best known for having suggested his post should be abolished if it wasn’t given more duties.

A Newsom victory would set him up as a major contender to succeed Brown in 2018. In February, he came out questioning the high-speed rail project dear to the governor’s agenda and heart. It might be a way to distinguish himself from the governor.

Nehring is a former state GOP chairman who, as with other down-ticket Republicans, has found it difficult gaining traction in a heavily Democratic state headed by a popular Democratic governor.

Attorney General

Incumbent Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat, enjoys a 13-point lead over her GOP opponent, Ron Gold, leading 49-36.

An easy Harris win would position her as the major contender with Newsom for the governor’s spot in 2018. She also has been touted as a top candidate to replace outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

And both Harris and Newsom, after their expected victories, would be well positioned to run for Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat should she decide not to run in 2016.

Controller and Treasurer

Republicans have put much hope in Ashley Swearengin, the Fresno mayor running for controller. Although she is doing better than other Republicans on the ballot, she’s still falling short. Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the Board of Equalization, is ahead by 8 points, 44-36, with 20 percent undecided.

Likewise, the treasurer’s race sees Democrat John Chiang, currently the state controller, ahead of Republican Greg Conlin by 11 points, 46-35, with 19 percent undecided.

Insurance commissioner

The insurance commissioner’s race has gained increasing importance because of Proposition 45 on the ballot. It would give the commissioner approval over medical insurance rates.

Incumbent Democrat Dave Jones is ahead of Republican challenger Ted Gaines by 12 points, 45 to 33 percent, with 22 percent undecided.


In sum, if the Field Poll numbers hold, Republicans still haven’t found a way to gain traction against Democrats in the Golden State.

On the positive side, the GOP this time definitely has a different look than in the past, especially with Kashkari and Swearengin. Gone are the high-profile candidacies of the mega-wealthy Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman, who left in their wake nothing for the party to build on but bad memories — and, in Arnold’s case, a legacy of record deficits and tax increases.

In their place are candidates willing to get out and fight it out in the trenches to build a new party. It’s a start.

Tags assigned to this article:
Neel KashkariField PollJerry BrownJohn Seiler

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