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'Anybody Could Win' San Francisco Mayoral Race, Poll Suggests, With Many Voters Undecided

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The San Francisco City Hall on June 17, 2016. (David Sailors/Getty Images)

A new poll by a moderate-leaning Democratic group shows San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a statistical tie with two of her challengers: Mark Farrell, a former supervisor, and Daniel Lurie, heir to the Levi Strauss fortune and former nonprofit CEO.

GrowSF, one of a coalition of political advocacy groups funded by tech billionaires spending big on causes championed by Breed, Farrell and Lurie, commissioned the poll from Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a California public policy research firm. It surveyed 412 San Franciscans by phone and online between April 29 and May 5.

The poll asked respondents who they would vote for in the November election and their backup choices, if any, under the ranked-choice voting system used to select San Francisco’s mayor.

Breed and Farrell were the finalists in the firm’s ranked-choice simulation, and Breed won with 51.4% of the final vote — although GrowSF noted that the victory was within the poll’s margin of error.

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When counting only respondents’ first-place votes, Breed led at 29%, Farrell and Lurie were tied with 23%, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin had 16%, and Supervisor Ahsha Safai brought up the back at 9%.

Significantly, 47% of respondents listed no second choice, and 28% were still undecided.

Jim Ross, a political consultant who ran Gov. Gavin Newsom’s successful 2003 campaign for mayor, said most San Franciscans don’t pay attention to mayoral elections until after Labor Day.

“Anybody could win at this point,” Ross said.

The results still look good for Breed, he added, since they show a path toward reelection even after extremely low approval ratings in past polls. A San Francisco Chronicle poll earlier this year found 71% of San Franciscans disapprove of Breed’s performance as mayor.

When asked to comment about Breed’s viability, campaign spokesperson Joe Arellano said the poll “speaks for itself.”

Farrell’s campaign manager, Jade Tu, said any statistical “dead heat” suggested by the poll means Farrell’s campaign is gaining ground fast after launching in February, well after Breed’s and Lurie’s.

“Our campaign is right where we want to be,” Tu said in a statement. “We have only been in the race for a few months, are raising and sitting on ample resources, and are just getting started with plenty of room to grow.”

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Max Szabo, a spokesperson for Lurie’s campaign, which has positioned itself against “City Hall insiders,” said, “every poll shows that voters will ultimately choose between a proven leader with a fresh perspective and the same City Hall insiders that have overseen the decline of San Francisco.”

GrowSF wrote in a statement that the results for Breed, Farrell and Lurie show any of them can win “with well-run campaigns focused on the issues voters care about.”

However, the group’s opposition to Peskin, who entered the race last month as the first prominent candidate from the progressive side, should call its data into question, said Jim Stearns, Peskin’s campaign consultant. GrowSF has told KQED in the past that it backs an “anybody but Peskin” strategy due to his opposition to some housing construction, a stance he has said is meant to protect the character of neighborhoods.

“Very questionable data from an extremely partisan organization. Our internal polling paints a very different picture,” Stearns wrote in a text message. “We’re confident that Aaron is in the top tier now and has lots of room to grow.”

Jason McDaniel, a politics professor at San Francisco State University, said the poll’s result for Peskin felt low but plausible, given that Peskin is new to the mayor’s race.

“I don’t think it’s a perfect snapshot, but I don’t think it should be dismissed too easily,” he said.

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