CA120: The Race for Second Place

U.S. Senate contenders: Democrat Loretta Sanchez and Republican Ron Unz. (Photo Illustration by Tim Foster/Capitol Weekly)

Great fights often have great names.

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Wait a second: The Race for Second Place?CA120_header4

Our recent Republican and Democratic primary polls suggest that Democrat Loretta Sanchez and Republican Ron Unz are in a tight race to place a very distant second to Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris in California’s U.S. Senate primary on June 7. It’s important: A second-place finish guarantees a spot on the November general election ballot.

Among No Party Preference voters, Sanchez has a slight advantage, but both candidates are in the single digits

In our poll of likely Republican primary voters, Unz led with 20%.

Among likely Democratic primary voters, Sanchez receives 15%, to Harris’ 54%.

If turnout comports with past presidential primary history, the electorate will be 44% Democrats and 35.5% Republicans, which means that both Unz and Sanchez are at perhaps 7% each overall, a figure that reflects support from their respective party’s members. When factoring in the large numbers of undecideds, that 7 percent may rise slightly to 8 percent for Unz and 9% for Sanchez, as shown in our table below.

The party distribution within the electorate reflects a fairly conservative turnout estimate, predicated mainly on having voted in at least two of the last three statewide primary elections, or in the November 2014 general election (which, in terms of numbers, may as well have been a primary because of the anemic turnout).

But assuming that Republican participation drops to 30% and Democrats increase to 50%, the race remains close if Unz can win the support of half of Republicans (15% of total vote) and Sanchez a third of Democrats (16.5%).

And if you think that’s a stretch for Unz, take a look at his website and think about the Trump voters.  And again, think about Sanders voters looking at Sanchez’s ballot designation “California Congresswoman.”

Among No Party Preference voters Sanchez has a slight advantage, but both candidates are in the single digits


  ALL Dem (44%) GOP (35.5%) Other (20.5%)
Harris 32% 54% 5% 29%
Sanchez 9% 15% 2% 9%
Unz 8% 1% 20% 3%
Del Becarro 6% 1% 13% 4%
Sundheim 3% * 6% 5%
Undecided/other 42% 29% 56% 50%


Sanchez would seem to have several structural advantages in this “race” with Unz – the NPP are more liberal and Unz, of course, has to split votes with two other (relatively) major Republican candidates.

The lack of a contested Republican presidential race may mean that GOP turnout lags, while the continuing fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders suggests that turnout will be strong on the Democratic side and add to Democratic totals.

Despite that, Unz should be considered a very slight favorite in this race.  He is ideologically aligned to Trump, particularly on immigration, while Sanchez, as a longtime member of Congress, may have limited appeal to Sanders supporters. Sanchez also struggles mightily with Clinton voters, as Harris has nearly monopolized establishment support.

Based on that, it’s logical to expect that the 54% undecided Republicans will break more strongly for Unz than the 27% of undecided Democrats will for Sanchez.

But while a Republican may win The Race for Second Place (despite what often seemed like the California Republican Party’s best efforts), the Democratic advantage in the general election means that Unz is almost certain to remain in second place for the duration of the campaign.

Race for Second Place, indeed.

 Ed’s Note: Jonathan Brown, head of Sextant Strategies and Research, is a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly. He and colleague Paul Mitchell are providing data-driven coverage to Capitol Weekly on the 2016 elections in California.

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