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Bustamante Has Big Lead on Schwarzenegger

Nearly half say their preference could change before the Oct. 7 recall election. Turnout will be critical, but predicting who will vote is difficult.

August 24, 2003|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante holds a wide lead over Arnold Schwarzenegger in the race to succeed Gov. Gray Davis, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll, which finds the Republican vote splintered among several GOP contenders.

As the sole major Democrat running to replace Davis -- should the incumbent be ousted Oct. 7 -- Bustamante enjoys the support of 35% of likely voters, the poll found.

Schwarzenegger received the support of 22%, followed by three fellow Republicans: state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks with 12%, businessman Peter V. Ueberroth with 7% and Bill Simon Jr. -- the GOP's 2002 gubernatorial nominee -- with 6%.

Simon abruptly quit the race Saturday, after the poll was completed. He said that "there are too many Republicans" running and expressed concern that his candidacy would undercut GOP efforts to oust Davis and replace the Democrat with one of their own.

Simon's earlier failure to beat Davis apparently took a toll on his repeat run; nearly one in five likely voters said they would be less likely to support Simon because of last year's loss.

Three other gubernatorial contenders who have won prominent mention lag far behind the major-party hopefuls, according to the poll. Arianna Huffington, who is running a nonpartisan campaign, received the support of just 3% of likely voters, and the Green Party's Peter Camejo drew 1%, tying him with Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.

Under the idiosyncratic rules that govern the recall vote, all 135 candidates from assorted parties or no party are listed on the same ballot. The candidate who gets the most votes will become governor -- if Davis is kicked out, which will be the first issue on the ballot.

The poll, completed Thursday night, found that 50% of likely voters favored recalling Davis and 45% were opposed, with 5% undecided.

But the contest remains unsettled, and polling is a particular challenge in this environment, given the special nature of the election and the way the campaign has been collapsed into a relatively brief, two-month time frame. California has never before witnessed a gubernatorial recall election. Voter turnout will be critical to the outcome, yet it is difficult to predict who will cast ballots. The figures in the Times poll assume a disproportionately high Republican turnout.

The poll suggested a great deal of fluidity: Although views on the recall effort itself were quite fixed, 46% of likely voters said they could change their minds about whom to support between now and Oct. 7.

Democrats were more certain of their candidate choices, with six in 10 saying they had definitely made up their minds, compared with 46% of the likely Republican voters.

Despite the smorgasbord of gubernatorial hopefuls, likely voters do not appear terribly enamored of their options. Of the leading contenders to replace Davis, only Bustamante and Ueberroth are seen in a largely positive light, though just half of likely voters indicated that they knew enough about Ueberroth to make a decision. Others were even less known or, in the case of Flynt, Huffington and Simon, seen in mostly negative terms.

Schwarzenegger has a mixed image among likely voters, with 46% saying they have a favorable impression of him and 44% an unfavorable one.

Much of his campaign strategy is based on his cross-over appeal to non-Republican voters, given his comparatively moderate positions on issues such as gun control, abortion and gay rights. But less than two weeks into his first run for elected office, Schwarzenegger has already become a politically polarizing figure.

Roughly seven in 10 likely Democratic voters have an unfavorable impression of the action-movie star, while the same number of likely Republican voters expressed a favorable view.

The actor won the support of 39% of likely Republican voters, 20% of independents and 7% of Democrats polled. McClintock received 21% of the Republican respondents' backing, Simon got 12% and Ueberroth 10%.

Overall, 50% of likely voters see Schwarzenegger as a political moderate. Twenty-seven percent view him as a conservative and 11% as a liberal; the remainder were not certain or declined to say.

The Times Poll, directed by Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,351 registered voters between Aug. 16 and Aug. 21. Among them were 801 voters deemed likely to cast ballots in the recall election. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey suggested that, for all the novelty of the campaign and the unconventional backgrounds of many of those running, no candidate has yet captured the imagination of California voters.

Bustamante, serving his second term as lieutenant governor, is vying to become the first Latino elected California's governor in modern times. He is pursuing a dual strategy, urging a "no" vote on the recall question but asking voters to support him in the event that Davis is thrown out of office.

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