By Josh Richman, San Jose Mercury News (TNS)
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Californians like the sound of “Senator Condoleezza Rice” — but apparently more than she does.
The former U.S. secretary of state polled better than 17 other possible 2016 U.S. Senate candidates in a new Field Poll, including a popular Democrat who has already declared her candidacy for Barbara Boxer’s soon-to-be-vacant seat, California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
But there’s one problem for Republicans: She has no intention of jumping into the race.
“Dr. Rice plans to stay at Stanford and continue life as a professor, and as such she has no plans to run for office in 2016,” Georgia Godfrey, her chief of staff, said Tuesday. And the poll shows no other potential Republican candidate coming close.
The early poll is mostly a measure of name recognition, but it might add a little wind to Harris’ sails. She keeps rolling out endorsements almost daily, while her potential rivals stand around with wetted fingers in the air. And it’s not great news for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who polls strongly among Latinos but not nearly as well among likely voters overall — even those from Southern California.
“This just shows you how wide open politics are in this state right now,” said Bill Whalen, a veteran GOP strategist and speechwriter who is now a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover
But Whalen said it’s generally good for Harris, even if it’s only a measure of her name recognition. “It underscores the tail wind she has in this election,” he said.
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a University of Southern California senior scholar and political expert, said Rice is “a very attractive Republican candidate on the surface.” But in a strongly Democratic state like California, Rice’s close association with the George W. Bush administration’s foreign policy — most notably, the Iraq War — means “a lot of baggage,” Jeffe said.
Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said “voters are only tuning in very casually, so what usually comes to the top of the list are the potential candidates who voters have the most knowledge about, or at least have heard about.” But the poll found “the voters are open to a wide range of possibilities,” he added.
The poll offered 11 Democratic choices and seven Republican choices, for which 972 likely voters said they were inclined or disinclined to vote or had no opinion. “We tried to not leave off any possible person,” DiCamillo said.
Forty-nine percent of likely voters told pollsters Jan. 26 through Monday that they were inclined to vote for Rice, while 46 percent said they were inclined to vote for Harris — within the poll’s margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
Next came Democratic U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, at 39 percent; California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, at 38 percent; Democratic U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, at 36 percent; Democratic U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, at 36 percent; former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, at 35 percent; and former Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat, at 35 percent.
Of those candidates, only Villaraigosa and Sanchez have expressed an interest in running for Boxer’s seat.
The next-closest potential Republican candidate in the poll is former state Sen. Phil Wyman, whom 24 percent of likely voters said they would be inclined to support — behind all 11 of the Democratic could-be candidates.
Tied for last place at 20 percent were GOP state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez — who announced Tuesday that he’s forming an exploratory committee for the race — and former state GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim, who has expressed interest in the race.
Brian Brokaw, Harris’ campaign manager, said the attorney general has won races pundits said she could never win, and never takes a campaign for granted. With the primary still 16 months away, he said, “we are very encouraged by the strong, early support, from not only Democrats but also no-party-preference voters, Latino voters and Southern California voters.”
Among Latino likely voters, 60 percent said they were inclined to support Villaraigosa, 54 percent said Padilla, 52 percent said Harris, 51 percent said Sanchez, 48 percent said Rice, and 48 percent said Harman.
Among Southern California likely voters, Rice led at 53 percent with Harris at 46 percent, Sanchez and Padilla at 39 percent, Garamendi and Harman at 35 percent; and Villaraigosa at 33 percent. In Northern California, Harris topped the list at 47 percent, with Rice at 45 percent, Speier at 43 percent, Sanchez at 39 percent, Garamendi and Padilla at 38 percent, and Villaraigosa at 37 percent.
Among nonpartisan likely voters — a crucial bloc, as 23 percent of California voters now state no party affiliation — Rice led with 54 percent inclined to support her, while Harris had 42 percent, Harman had 37 percent and Garamendi had 34 percent.
Charlotte Chastain, 85, of San Jose, told the Field Poll that Rice was among a handful of candidates for whom she would be inclined to vote. Chastain said she’s a “dyed-in-the-wool Democrat,” but listens to all candidates with an open mind.
Rice “has a positive attitude, and I think she’s attempting to do things that other women in political office have never attempted,” said Chastain, now retired after working for decades as a volunteer for veterans’ causes. “She’s a brave woman and I’d like to hear more of her ideas.”
Photo: darthdowney via Flickr