Not bad, but not a blockbuster: Consider that the real takeaway for Kamala Harris in the first statewide public poll in the 2016 race for the U.S. Senate.
Harris, the only confirmed candidate in the contest to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, has the support of 46 percent of those surveyed by the nonpartisan Field Poll. She leads all other potential Democratic candidates for the Senate seat, but comes in behind one well-known Republican.
That would be Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, who would win support from 49 percent of those polled. In all, the survey asks Californians about a whopping 18 different political figures. The data, while showing some are decidedly better off if they choose to run, makes clear it's a pretty wide open contest at this early juncture.
"I think, from voters' perspective, they're open to a range of possibilities," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.
The top perch for Rice, who's now a professor at Stanford, comes even as the former close confidante of President George W. Bush has said she has no interest in a political campaign. And make no mistake, Democrats would have a hefty opposition research folder on Rice if she were to run -- quickly invoking the strong sentiment in California against Bush and his policies that existed during his time in office.
The poll comes as Harris begins ever so slightly to formally engage in her Senate campaign, and as just about everyone in political circles casts their gaze on some kind of announcement from former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The Field Poll finds the veteran Democratic lawmaker with 35 percent support among all likely voters, a 14-point gap with Harris.
Among only likely Democratic voters, it's Kamala Harris by a comfortable margin: 74 percent support, compared with just 57 percent support for fellow Democrat Villaraigosa.
"He's really just one of five that I would call 'Democrats in the second tier,' " said pollster DiCamillo.
Sanchez, Padilla, Speier: Call Your Political Consultant?
In fact, that may produce the real buzz among political insiders who read this poll: Are there other Democrats who might want to give the 2016 Senate race a closer look?
The survey finds noticeable support for a Senate race by U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove); California Secretary of State Alex Padilla; and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo). The three Democrats come in at 64 percent, 61 percent, and 58 percent support, respectively, among their own party loyalists.
Of those, only Sanchez has publicly flirted with entering the race. Also scoring high in the potential scenarios floated by Field's pollsters were U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) and former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman.
There's one good reason for all of that potential Democratic power in the survey: The dominant party has a lot of men and women with relatively high name identification.
"That's the nature of early, pre-election polling," said DiCamillo. "It really boils down to the better-known candidates usually start out ahead, and party is a huge factor."
That party affiliation also helps explain both the relative weakness of potential Republican candidates for the Senate seat, and the lack of crossover support among voters for someone from the other major party.
No politician of either of those parties gets more than 16 percent support from likely voters of the other party, except for one: Condoleezza Rice, who scores potential support from 31 percent of Democrats who were surveyed.
On Tuesday, Assemblyman Rocky Chávez (R-Oceanside) announced he's forming an exploratory committee for the race. His exploration is likely to find some rough water at the outset: only 20 percent support among all likely voters in the Field Poll, 40 percent among Republicans.
Latino Voters Like Villaraigosa
While the poll will undoubtedly propel advisers to Kamala Harris to declare her candidacy strong, it also reinforces at least one finding in two private polls released over the last couple of weeks: Latino voters start out very interested in a Latino Democratic candidate.
The Field Poll finds 60 percent of Latinos surveyed like Villaraigosa as a candidate, an 8-point lead over Harris.
(Chávez, the GOP Latino legislator, gets only about 24 percent support among this voter subgroup.)
The poll is, like all such surveys, only a snapshot in time. And because the race is hardly even a race yet -- we're still a year away from when anyone can formally file the paperwork for candidacy -- its shelf life is likely even shorter than most. The real question is probably whether it causes anyone other than Harris, who's off and running with endorsements and fundraisers, to take a second look at throwing a hat into the ring.