Whatever vulnerability Sen. Dianne Feinstein displayed as she pondered whether to run for a fifth full term next year has seemingly evaporated, at least according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
Among likely voters, Feinstein leads her main Democratic rival, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, by 45 to 21 percent. She's well ahead in every region of the state, including de León's home turf of Los Angeles, where she leads 47 to 22 percent.
Thirty-three percent of voters in that race are undecided.
Earlier surveys showed a sizable portion of the electorate preferring that the 84-year-old Democrat retire. But in the PPIC survey, Feinstein is viewed favorably by 51 percent of likely voters, while 48 percent have never heard of de León.
As Senate president, de León has championed several high-profile issues in recent years, including climate change, immigrant rights and gun control. But in a state with more than 39 million people and so many things competing for everyone's attention, de León is still a mystery to most voters.
"It’s very sobering for people with leadership positions in Sacramento to realize that doesn't translate into being well-known in California," said survey director Mark Baldassare. "It points to the challenges ahead for de León to get well-known, especially running against an incumbent as well-known as Feinstein."
In response to the poll, de León's campaign manager, Courtni Pugh, acknowledged the uphill battle.
"We knew going in that we would start as underdogs,” Pugh said in a written message. She asserted that de León's positions on issues like health care reform will resonate with voters. "Those kinds of things will make a difference as voters get to know Kevin during this campaign," she said.
The poll finds a much tighter contest in the race to replace Gov. Jerry Brown when he leaves office after next year. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom remains the front-runner, as he has in almost every poll. Newsom leads former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa 23 to 18 percent, with 30 percent of voters saying they're undecided.
In a sign of problems for Republicans, both GOP candidates -- businessman John Cox (9 percent) and Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen (6 percent) -- are far behind.
Other Democrats in the race, state Treasurer John Chiang and former state Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin, have 9 and 3 percent support respectively.
Under California's election rules, the top two finishers in the June primary will advance to the November election, even if they're from the same political party.
"At this point the challenges for Republicans Cox and Allen are great because they’ve never been heard of by 6 in 10 voters," PPIC's Baldassare said. "Even more problematic is they’ve never been heard of by more than half of Republicans. They have a lot of work to do."
In the U.S. Senate race, Baldassare says the recent focus on sexual harassment could benefit Feinstein, who was first elected in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman.
"It’s going to put a focus on de León and how he’s managing what’s become a very serious problem in the eyes of voters," Baldassare said. "This is what they’re hearing most from Sacramento today."
Also helping Feinstein: the re-emergence of gun control, one of her signature issues. The San Francisco Democrat also has stepped up criticism of President Trump, which could shore up support on the left.
The PPIC poll results are based on a survey of 1,704 California adult residents from Nov. 10-19, 2017.