California Already Tightening

By Jim Ellis

June 17, 2019 — A new large-sample Golden State poll released from the University of California at Berkeley and the Los Angeles Times (June 4-10; 2,131 likely California Democratic primary voters from a pool of 4,435 registered voters) yields some surprising results. The three most unexpected findings first show a tight race among the four top contenders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) surging into second place, and home-state Sen. Kamala Harris only finishing fourth but not substantially behind.

The California primary, scheduled for March 3, possesses the largest number of first-ballot delegates of any state or territory. The state’s 416 first-ballot delegates, 272 of whom are divided among the 53 congressional districts and 144 at-large, will certainly help set the tone over how the Democratic National Convention unfolds.

Sen. Harris, who could well be the indicator candidate as to what scenario will occur at the convention, (i.e., will one candidate be able to coalesce a majority coalition on the first or second ballot or does the nomination battle fall into a multi-ballot contest) must score big in her home state, and this latest survey suggests her path is challenging but doable.

The Berkeley/LA Times study sees former Vice President Joe Biden holding a smaller lead than in past surveys, as he polls 22 percent first-choice responses. Sen. Warren makes a major jump into second place and records 18 percent, one of her best showings in any poll. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has been dipping in polling across the country, places third at 17 percent, and Sen. Harris trails in fourth position, but is still clearly in the game at 13 percent.

Polling from around the country within the last 10 days, and this California study is obviously no exception, has been projecting a tighter Democratic race. Though Biden still leads, his advantage is lessening.

There is no doubt that Sen. Warren is making a move. Though she had been running consistently third in national and state polls for some time, her standing was largely due to candidates such as Sen. Harris, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and ex-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) coming back down to her, rather than Warren getting a boost of positive momentum. That, however, has recently changed because the Massachusetts senator is now clearly gaining political strength.

Sen. Harris could become a major factor in this race, but she needs to do well in Nevada, South Carolina, and her home state. She is unlikely to fare particularly well in Iowa and New Hampshire, hence the importance of her showing upward mobility in Nevada, and then winning the South Carolina primary.

The African-American vote dominates the Palmetto State Democratic primary, and it is of critical importance for her to show strength by winning that race, far from her home but so close in voting day proximity. The South Carolina primary is scheduled for Feb. 28. The California primary will culminate four days later but the early voting process will be ongoing beginning as early as Feb. 3.

The Berkeley/LA Times poll also asked a second-choice question to determine greater candidate strength. Adding this response to the candidates’ aggregate score helps show just how close this race is becoming. Combining first and second choice answers finds Sen. Warren holding a combined score of 35 percent, with Biden and Sen. Harris both totaling 34 percent apiece. Sen. Sanders drops back to 29 percent.

Under Democratic delegate apportionment rules, only candidates who score 15 percent of the vote statewide and in each congressional district are eligible to receive delegates. Looking at just the at-large vote, and assuming this poll is accurate and at the end Sen. Harris reaches 15 percent, the delegate count would be tight.

Looking at just the 144 at-large delegates: Biden would score 44, Warren 36, Sanders 34, and Harris 30. The 53 congressional districts would then have their own individual apportionment and other candidates could jump into the mix by scoring at least 15 percent of the vote within the individual CDs. Therefore, the entire California delegate dispersion could be widely distributed and quite close. If this were to actually happen, the chances of seeing an open, multi-ballot Democratic National Convention for the first time since 1952, would be great.

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