The most likely candidate to win the Senate 25th District seat isn’t even in the race. Yet.
That’s one conclusion you could draw from an early, very early, poll showing that Karen Bass could steal the election from the crowded field of Democrats already in the race.
The Senate 25th included several Los Angeles-area communities, including Compton, Inglewood, parts of Long Beach and Palos Verdes Estates. Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally has declared his candidacy, as have former Assembly members Rod Wright and Jerome Horton. Relative newcomer Kevin Biggers is also in the race.
Bass, who is beginning her third year in the Assembly and who serves as majority leader of that house, is not a candidate for the 25th. “I’m surprised. I heard about a poll, but I didn’t know much about it,” Bass told Capitol Weekly.
The poll was commissioned by EdVoice, a nonprofit organization interested in public-school reform, at the suggestion of labor and environmental groups that are watching the race. EdVoice political director Paul Mitchell said that before he got the poll results, he figured Bass was a long shot.
The results of the poll are all the more surprising because Bass’ current Assembly district (the 47th) only barely overlaps with the 25th Senate district.
“I was very surprised,” said Ben Tulchin, California director of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the firm that conducted the poll. “The thought going in was that hardly anybody knows her and it would be very tough.”
Indeed, Bass starts out in the middle of the pack on name recognition, garnering just 21 percent to Horton’s 39 percent and Dymally’s formidable 52 percent.
Likely voters’ initial reactions to the candidates tended toward Dymally, who grabbed 28 percent. He was followed by Bass at 19 percent, Horton at 15 percent, Wright at 7 percent and Biggers at 2 percent.
After reading the positive biographies–each just 45 to 60 words–of the candidates to poll participants, Bass rocketed to 27 percent, pulling even with Dymally.
“Dymally has a base. But it seems like he’s unable to expand beyond it. And Bass is a fresh face while the others are carrying a bit of baggage,” Tulchin explained.
In fact, after likely voters were told of the “negatives” on each of the candidates, Bass pulled away–becoming the first choice of a whopping 42 percent of those polled.
Dymally’s negatives included a brief description of media coverage of the Assembly badge flap that dogged him last year. Horton got dinged on money he took from tobacco companies. While Wright’s negative bio mentioned his position on gun legislation (he’s pro-gun in a field of Democrats) that didn’t seem to hurt his numbers at all. No negatives were presented to poll participants on either Bass or Biggers.
Those “post-negative” numbers can’t at all be taken to predict the outcome of any primary race. But it may highlight some of the vulnerabilities of the current field–especially if they were to form a circular firing squad of negative campaigning.
As Tulchin put it in his conclusion to the poll results: “If left to the current declared candidates, this will be a nasty race with no candidate who can promote a positive message that moves voters.” Whereas, “Bass would be an extremely strong candidate.”
“She has the potential to really reshape that race,” agreed Mitchell.
In a district where women make up about 60 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, Bass may have a unique advantage. “She’s the only woman running against a bunch of guys,” Tulchin explained. The district is heavily African-American but, Tulchin said, Bass did best among whites and Latinos, as well. “You can’t win there with just the black vote,” Tulchin added.
The 25th is an unusual race in that it will feature three, possibly four, current or former Assembly members. “It’s going to be a wild one,” said Matt Rexroad, a Republican political consultant and Yolo County supervisor. “Certainly she would seem to be a very formidable candidate.”
But Rexroad cautions that polls don’t mean much this early. He also figures that the 2008 primary will be one of the lowest turnouts ever, since the early presidential primary will draw much of voters’ interest away. “It’s going to come down to who has the tightest control of the base.”
If there’s a nascent “draft Bass” movement at work, the likely suspects are being coy about it.
Mary Gutierrez, with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said “really we’re waiting on bringing those candidates in through our formal endorsement process.”
Bass has a strong environmental record, said David Allgood with the California League of Conservation Voters. But the CLCV hasn’t even started its endorsement process yet, either. Bass and Dymally would be strong candidates he said. “If the choice were Jerome Horton and Rod Wright, I’d certainly be jumping on the Karen Bass bandwagon.”
As for Bass, even she’s not saying whether she’s on the Bass for Senate bandwagon. She’s got time left in the Assembly under the current term-limits regime. And the majority leader is rumored to be in line for speaker, should she stick around. But the timing might be right to make a jump to Senate.
“I’m just real surprised. I wasn’t campaigning. But it definitely makes me think about it,” Bass said.
Contact Cosmo Garvin at firstname.lastname@example.org