A new poll shows Antonio Villaraigosa would start a Senate race against Kamala Harris at a significant disadvantage. The poll shows Villaraigosa trailing Harris, 28-18 percent, in a hypothetical four-way matchup.
The poll was commissioned by the Latino Legislative Caucus, which has been urging a Latino candidate to enter the race. In its press release, the caucus played up the finding that a strong Latino candidate would energize Latino voters.
However, the poll results, contained in a three-page memo, paint a discouraging picture for Villaraigosa. Here's the hypothetical horse race:
Ashley Swearengin (R) 31
Kamala Harris (D) 28
Antonio Villaraigosa (D) 18
Adam Schiff (D) 4
Gavin-Hart-Yang Research Group, 600 likely voters, conducted Jan 27-29, margin of error: 4%
So far, Harris is still the only candidate who has declared. In the above scenario, Swearengin would advance to a November runoff against Harris, where Harris would be strongly favored due to California's partisan makeup.
The Latino Caucus is friendly towards Villaraigosa, which adds credibility to the result. It's almost like a candidate releasing an internal poll that shows him behind — if even he is saying it, then it's probably true.
The poll memo does its best to spin this in Villaraigosa's favor, conceding that Harris has a "head start" but arguing that the race is still "very competitive." But other results are discouraging as well.
For one, Villaraigosa and Harris are tied in the Los Angeles media market, at 24 percent to 24 percent. To beat Harris statewide, Villaraigosa would have to run considerably ahead of her on his home turf in L.A. to make up for her advantage in San Francisco. (In the Bay Area, Harris is leading Villaraigosa 42 percent to 15 percent.)
Another troubling sign is that Villaraigosa is actually better known that Harris statewide. According to the poll, 66 percent of voters know who he is, compared to 62 percent for Harris. On the surface, high name recognition is a good thing. But if you're trailing, that means a sizable percentage of the electorate knows you and doesn't like you.
Adam Schiff, by contrast, is not well known. According to the poll, his name identification is only 25 percent. As voters are introduced to him, he could grow well beyond 4 percent. But a mere introduction won't cut it for Villaraigosa. Instead, he has to persuade some people who don't like him to change their minds — a harder task.
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In its search for silver linings, the poll memo notes that Villaraigosa is beating Harris among Latinos (44 percent to 20 percent), and that Latinos could make up a larger slice of the June primary electorate if a Latino candidate is competitive. However, Harris' candidacy could have a similar effect among African-Americans and women.
As Villaraigosa continues to mull over the race, he may consider whether he would fare any better in a governor's race against Gavin Newsom in 2018. If not, he might as well take his shot now. If so, it's probably wise to wait.
The full poll memo: