Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese has emerged as the frontrunner in a crowded race to replace state Sen. Jim Beall, holding a 13-point advantage over his likely opponents, according to a new poll obtained by San José Spotlight.
The poll, which surveyed 600 likely voters from March 26 to April 2, found that 32 percent of respondents would likely vote for Cortese if the election were held today. San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, who’s running as an independent, garnered 19 percent support from voters, followed by former Assemblywoman Nora Campos with 18 percent, Tim Gildersleeve with 10 percent and former FEC Chair Ann Ravel in last place with 8 percent.
The poll by EMC Research found 14 percent of likely voters are undecided or would cast a ballot for “someone else.” The poll had a margin of error of 3.92 percent, locking Khamis and Campos in a statistical tie for second place.
Cortese, who was first to announce his run for state Senate, has focused his campaign around social issues such as alleviating homelessness and the housing crisis.
“During the first few months of the campaign, friends from outside the area, including interested parties in Sacramento, asked for stronger evidence of my front runner status,” Cortese said Monday. “I’ve been reminded that not everyone looking at this race is familiar with my family’s 50 years of public service in Santa Clara County — or the deep and significant work we’ve led benefitting schools, neighborhoods, public safety and more recently, housing the homeless.”
The news is encouraging for Cortese after some political pundits wondered if Ravel, a fellow Democrat, would steal votes from the veteran lawmaker. But the poll, which was funded by Cortese’s campaign, shows the supervisor leading Ravel four-to-one.
Ravel said Tuesday that’s it’s “no surprise that Cortese gets a boost in this very early poll because of his family’s name.”
“I’m running a strong grassroots campaign that puts people first, and I’ve sought small donor support,” Ravel added. “When voters in the entire district hear of my experience and my long track record of fighting for justice and making change in the community, they will recognize that I’m the best choice to make a difference for them in the Legislature.”
San Jose State political scientist Garrick Percival said poll results early in the campaign are often based on name recognition, especially since the primary election is 11 months away,
“Certainly, Dave Cortese is a supervisor and has been in the public eye for a long time,” Percival said. “I’m not surprised that he’s at the top. He ran a very competitive, narrowly-lost race for mayor. Having run a citywide race already and almost won is going to put him into a leading position heading into the opening months of the campaign.”
Beall, who is terming out in 2020, has not yet endorsed in the race. Senate District 15 spans most of Santa Clara County, including San Jose, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Saratoga. The district is home to more than 900,000 residents.
With California’s top-two primary system, Percival said it’s clear that Cortese has enough support to propel him into the Nov. 2020 general election.
But who will join him?
While Ravel is very “well-respected” and known in statewide political circles, Percival said, she hasn’t become a household name in local politics. But Khamis could chart a path for himself as the more moderate or conservative alternative, especially if the progressive candidates on the ballot split the vote.
Khamis said Monday he’s not surprised that Cortese’s name is more recognizable in the district because he’s a longtime politician.
“But we’re far enough away that it’s going to continue to grow for me,” Khamis said. “I think I have a lot more to gain and I feel like I’m doing a great job being out there, going to community meetings, talking to people in different areas.”
Khamis added that his record as a fiscal conservative will set him apart in the crowded primary election.
“We’re going to give people a real choice,” he said. “I’ve saved millions of dollars at the city and the VTA in my tenure. I have a lot of ways to show what I’ve done in terms of saving people money. All my opponents are looking to spend money.”
Campos, a Democrat who served in the Assembly for six years, has the advantage of being a woman, though she hasn’t been in the public eye since mounting an unsuccessful bid against Beall in 2016. Campos could not be reached for comment.
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