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THE TIMES POLL

Clinton Holds 17-Point Lead Over Dole in State

September 20, 1996|BILL STALL | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

President Clinton, capitalizing on his intense cultivation of California voters, maintains a solid 17-percentage point lead over GOP challenger Bob Dole among likely voters in California, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

It comes at a time when Californians say they are feeling better about the state than at any other time since 1991.

The election news is bleak virtually across the board for Dole, the former Kansas senator who has vowed to wage a competitive battle for California's crucial block of 54 electoral votes. Clinton has a huge lead among women, is getting strong support from independent voters and has edged significantly into Dole's conservative base.

Clinton leads Dole 53% to 36% among likely voters, with Ross Perot at 6%, Ralph Nader at 3% and 2% saying they don't know.

Among all registered voters, Clinton leads 52% to 34%. That's almost unchanged for Clinton from a statewide Times poll in July, when Clinton led Dole 50% to 30% with Perot at 17%. Nader was not included in the July poll.

Meanwhile, a senior Dole campaign official confirmed Thursday that Dole's California manager, Ken Khachigian, was to fly to Washington today to review the Dole plan for California.

The official insisted the move did not mean that Dole is going to cut short the California campaign effort in order to devote resources to states where Dole has a greater chance of winning--a rumor that has plagued the campaign for more than a week.

But he said campaign officials have developed scenarios of how they could win without carrying California.

So far, nothing Dole has done in his campaign seems to have boosted his appeal with California voters since he won the March GOP primary and was formally nominated for president at the Republican National Convention in San Diego in August.

Californians generally are not buying Dole's 15% tax cut plan, which served as the keystone of his campaign during August and much of September. Sixty-one percent of registered voters say it is unrealistic.

Nor do they seem to be moved by two other major Dole campaign themes in recent weeks: the rise in teenage drug use and moral decline in America as exemplified by violence, sex and drug use in motion pictures.

When asked what they consider to be the most pressing problem facing California, only 10% mentioned drugs and 2% listed moral issues.

Voters who said they look most for honesty in a presidential candidate said they prefer Dole over Clinton. But Clinton beats Dole among voters who say they prize leadership, caring for people and bringing about change.

They also chose Clinton over Dole for having the best ideas for handling foreign affairs, the environment and, narrowly, balancing the budget. Californians give the two candidates about equal marks on dealing with the issue of illegal immigration.

And more than three out of five respondents say Clinton should not be blamed for the rise in teenage drug use, an issue that has been hit hard by Dole and Republicans the past two weeks.

The Times Poll interviewed 1,333 Californians by telephone, including 1,059 registered voters, from Saturday through Tuesday. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

"Clinton's 27 visits to the Golden State have paid off for the president. He is clearly very popular in California," said Susan Pinkus, acting director of the Los Angeles Times Poll.

Among all women, Clinton is leading by 33 points, 60% to 27%. And Clinton's support among independents has risen from 39% in July to 52%. Clinton also gets a fourth of voters who identify themselves as conservatives and a third of white Protestant fundamentalists.

"This does not bode well for Dole," Pinkus said. Apparently his effort to reach out to conservatives at the GOP national convention and since then has failed to solidify this traditional base of Republican support.

One ray of light for the Republicans: The poll indicates that Californians now are slightly more inclined to vote for Republicans for Congress than they were in July. Even so, a plurality of respondents, 48% to 42%, said they favored Democrats in California House races. The Democratic edge in July was 51% to 40%.

This could be crucial in the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives, captured by the GOP in 1994. At present, California's House delegation is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, 26 to 26.

The outcome of seven closely contested House races in California could have a major impact on the Democrats' prospects of winning back control of the House. Californians indicated in the poll that they are about evenly divided over the question of whether they wanted Democrats or Republicans to control the House if Clinton is reelected president.

This appears to reflect a California tendency over the years to favor divided government as a matter of checks and balances.

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