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THE TIMES POLL : Many Voters Undecided in 6 Statewide Races


With the campaigns for the June 7 primary entering the home stretch, an overwhelming number of California voters still have not made up their minds in six contested statewide offices, a Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Many voters probably will wait until the final days or until they reach the polls to make their selections in these contested races for lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, treasurer, secretary of state, controller and state schools chief.

Voters remain undecided even though spirited campaigns for most of these offices are being mounted for the first time in years.

On the Democratic side, The Times Poll found that the most clearly defined race is the nasty contest for state treasurer, in which state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys) holds a 40% to 26% edge among likely Democratic voters over Phil Angelides, a Sacramento developer and former state Democratic Party chairman. But even here, 34% are undecided.

The statewide survey was conducted from May 21 to Wednesday--when Angelides was airing some of the strongest attack TV ads of the political season, linking Roberti to corruption in the Capitol and criticizing his anti-abortion stance.

The poll questioned 1,471 registered voters, including 326 likely Democratic voters and 268 likely Republican voters. The margin of error is 6 percentage points in either direction among likely Democratic voters and 7 percentage points among likely Republican voters.

In the GOP race for lieutenant governor, among all registered Republicans, state Sen. Cathie Wright enjoys a 25% to 15% advantage over Assemblyman Stan Statham, a rural north state lawmaker. However, 60% of Republicans have not made up their minds.

The race tightens to a dead heat among those Republicans who say they will go to the polls, with both aspirants drawing 21%. Still, nearly six out of 10 likely voters were undecided. The winner will face Controller Gray Davis, who has only token opposition in the Democratic primary to succeed retiring Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy.

Even though the future of public education is hotly debated, the contest for state schools chief seems to have generated the least interest of all, with seven in 10 of likely voters undecided even when offered the names of five major candidates.

Among likely voters, the poll found no clear front-runner to succeed former Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, who left the nonpartisan office after being convicted on conflict-of-interest charges.

But the top tier of candidates is bunched like this: Maureen DiMarco, Gov. Pete Wilson's education adviser, 9%; Joseph Carrabino, former state school board president, 7%; Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont), 6%; Wilbert Smith, a former Pasadena school board member, 5%, and Gloria Matta Tuchman, an Orange County elementary schoolteacher, 2%.

With such a high number of undecided voters, the gap between candidates is considered statistically insignificant, according to John Brennan, director of The Times Poll. This is the one statewide race in which voters of all parties can cast ballots for any candidate.

Eastin, with strong support among Democratic politicians, and other candidates are banking on a flurry of last-minute mailers and TV spots to boost their name identification enough to capture the primary contests.

Indeed, Brennan, who supervised the statewide survey, said: "An ounce of added name recognition or a favorably received occupation label on the ballot can shift results one way or the other. So things could change a great deal between now and Election Day and many voters will probably not choose a candidate until they are actually in the voting booth."

Brennan noted that voters could be swayed by a variety of factors, including the way candidates are identified on the ballot. He said that as a policy The Times Poll does not provide respondents with a candidate's ballot designation.

Ambitious politicians can turn these lesser statewide jobs into steppingstones to higher office the way Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. used the secretary of state's office 20 years ago as a platform to run for governor. Or, as usually happens, these obscure posts can turn into a ticket to political oblivion.

But the old political calculus about these jobs may be changing.

With politicians facing voter-imposed term limits, a large field of state legislators, such as Roberti, have jumped into races for statewide offices.

One obstacle they face is grabbing the attention of voters likely to be focused on the lively Democratic campaign for governor or the U.S. Senate primaries.

Another wild card for Democratic candidates is that women outnumber male voters. In 1992, 54% of those voting in the primary were women, according to a Times exit poll. But whether they will favor female candidates over men is unclear.

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