Condoleezza Rice, former President George W. Bush's Secretary of State, says she is not running for Barbara Boxer's Senate seat in 2016. But the Field Poll (pdf) decided to give Republicans and headline writers a thrill, anyway, and put her in its latest random survey of likely voters.
To be fair to the other candidates, it must be said, this was not a head-to-head battle with early frontrunner California Attorney General Kamala Harris, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or any of the other presumed Democratic candidates in this bluest of blue states. It was a poll of how “inclined” people were to vote for a particular candidate and they could be inclined toward more than one.
Forty-nine percent liked Rice, compared to 46% for Harris. They were followed by a passel of Democrats: Representative Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove (39%); Secretary of State Alex Padilla (38%); Representative Jackie Speier of San Mateo (36%); Representative John Garamendi of Walnut Grove (36%); Villaraigosa (35%); and former Representative Jane Harman (35%).
Only Harris has announced a candidacy among the best-known potential candidates and only a couple have indicated what passes for real interest in the job. But it's not too early to run name-recognition polling and start a few story lines for the upcoming horse race.
One of them might be that no Republican other than Rice polled above 25%. Former state Senator Phil Wyman of Tehachapi checked in at 24% and there were four more Democrats ahead of him. Wyman was followed by Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin (22%), who ran a credible statewide race for State Controller last November after finishing second in a California's “top-two” primary.
Whatever influence the new top-two system might have on reducing political polarization and empowering the elusive independent, it isn't reflected yet in the Field Poll. Both parties are overwhelmingly inclined to vote for their own.
Thirty-one percent of Democrats were inclined toward Rice, but none of the other Republicans got more than 10%. Republicans gave their top Democratic Party marks to Padilla (16%) and dropped Harris into the middle of the pack at 10%.
Another storyline might be one that elicited mounting enthusiasm at the conservative political website HotAir, where the results generated “genuine surprise” in the first paragraph but were “positively shocking” by the second. Not only did a Republican finish atop the survey, it was a Bush insider with a strong connection to the Iraq war, which everyone presumed was toxic.
While Rice lacks the conservative bona fides that excite HotAir (other than starting a war), the blogger was buoyed by the prospect that even in California, we've gotten over that whole Iraqi blame game thing that tainted the Republican Party brand. Even “center-left” voters recognize America is “in retreat around the world” and security issues matter. A vote for Rice is a vote for never-ending war in the Mideast.
The poll was conducted between January 26 and February 16 by phone with 972 likely California voters. The margin of error is +/-4.5 percentage points.