“Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has seen her advantage in her race against state Sen. Kevin de León chopped in half since July. But she still maintains a commanding, double-digit lead in her bid for a fifth full term, despite being the recent target of bipartisan criticism regarding her handling of sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
That’s according to a new poll released Wednesday night by the Public Policy Institute of California, which tracked the high-profile race between Feinstein, 85, and de León, 50, the progressive Democrat who authored California’s controversial “sanctuary state” bill. The survey showed Feinstein leading de León by 11 points among likely voters — 40 percent to 29 percent — with 8 percent still undecided.
While still robust, that margin over de León, who won the endorsement of the California Democratic Party’s executive board earlier this year, has shrunk markedly since July, when Feinstein led by a whopping 22 points — 46 to 24 percent.
Pollster Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC, said de León’s jump in the polls has been the result of his increased visibility in California, where he grabbed headlines last week accusing Feinstein of a “failure of leadership” regarding the investigation into Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Saying she should have notified the FBI earlier regarding the letter she received in July from the accuser, Palo Alto professor Christine Blasey Ford, de León has argued that it was just one example of Feinstein’s timidity in “taking the fight to the Republicans” on key issues.
“I think that de León has been out and around in California, talking a lot about his efforts to resist the Trump administration and around climate change,’’ Baldassare told POLITICO. “Clearly, de León has a message that has resonated with many Democratic voters today, and his approach and his way of speaking about what’s going on in Washington reflects some of their frustration.”
By contrast, Baldassare said, “Senator Feinstein has been in Washington most of the time, really more focused on what her job is currently. But it’s important to keep in mind that while the lead, once very large, isn’t as large, it’s still double-digit.”
Baldassare said that as an incumbent, Feinstein looks especially strong in the race — 52 percent to 37 percent — if the poll takes into consideration the majority of registered Republicans who say they will not vote in the Democrat-vs.-Democrat race.
And though she was recently slammed by Trump and Republican leaders, as well as de León, for her role in the Kavanaugh case, Feinstein appears solidly in command with a wide swath of California voters, Baldassare said.
The poll showed that Democratic likely voters favor her by a 2-to-1 ratio (60 percent to 30 percent), and that she leads among women (46 percent to 30 percent), men (34 to 28 percent), white likely voters (40 percent to 25 percent) and those in other racial/ethnic groups (41 percent to 32 percent). While Latino likely voters are closely split (40 percent for Feinstein, 38 percent for de León), Feinstein also leads among likely voters ages 18 to 44 (41 percent to 33 percent) and among those 45 and older (40 percent to 27 percent).
The poll also tracked the California governor’s race, where Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom maintains a double-digit lead, 51 percent to 39 percent, among likely voters against Republican John Cox, with 7 percent still undecided — though his lead, too, has been slashed in half since July.
Cox “has been talking less about the fact that he’s a Republican endorsed by Trump,’’ Baldassare said. “He hasn’t had to talk about the solutions to those problems because Newsom is largely ignoring him.”
The poll had also some bad news for California Republicans: It showed that Proposition 6 on the November ballot — the repeal of the gas tax backed by Gov. Jerry Brown to pay for infrastructure improvements — is opposed by a majority of the state’s likely voters: 52 percent to 39 percent, with 8 percent undecided.
Republican party leaders have pushed the measure onto the ballot, hoping in part that their call for a gas-tax repeal would energize GOP turnout in California, where at least seven embattled Republican House members face close and critical races that could help flip Congress to control of the Democrats. Baldassare noted that the poll showed an ominous sign: Fifty percent of GOP voters oppose the measure.
In another surprise, a high-profile ballot measure that would potentially allow for the expansion of rent control in California also appears headed for defeat. Proposition 10 would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which restricts cities’ ability to implement rent control, but among likely voters, 48 percent are opposed and 36 percent are in favor, with 16 percent undecided.
The poll, conducted Sept. 9-18, surveyed 1,710 California residents and 964 likely voters, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points among likely voters.”