Poll shows Santa Clara County district attorney, opponent in close race
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is seen in this file photo.

    An early election poll shows Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen and public defender Sajid Khan in a close race for the top county prosecutor seat.

    The poll, conducted by Florida-based SEA Polling & Strategic Design, surveyed 350 likely voters in the county district attorney race between Dec. 14-16. The poll, paid for by Khan’s campaign, has a margin of error of 5.23 percentage points.

    The poll shows more voters know about Rosen—Santa Clara County’s district attorney for more than a decade—than they do his opponents. Rosen has an early lead at 20% of voter support. Khan polls at 8%, and Daniel Chung, a deputy district attorney who’s suing Rosen for allegedly retaliating against him, comes in at 10%.

    But with almost two-thirds of respondents undecided, the race is far from being called.

    The poll shows a closer race between incumbent Rosen and Khan, a progressive public defender, after pollsters provided more information on the candidates. Rosen polls at 29%, while Khan’s voter support jumps to 27%. Chung comes in third at 15%.

    “This gives us a lot of optimism about where we are and also our chance to win this race come the June primary,” Khan told San José Spotlight. “It shows, when voters are given a description of myself and Mr. Rosen, that voters resonate with the values that I stand for.”

    Public defender and DA candidate Sajid Khan rallies with residents in front of the county jail on Aug. 27, 2021. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    The poll found the incumbent’s advantage might not be enough to help him secure his seat. More than half of voters—56%—don’t recognize his name despite his decade-long tenure, according to results. Among those who did, 36% want to see a new district attorney and 17% said they would vote for him again.

    The poll also shows nearly 8 in 10 respondents support investing in alternatives to incarceration, and nearly 9 in 10 support increasing transparency and accountability for law enforcement—platforms Khan is prioritizing.

    “What the poll tells us is that voters are not satisfied with the broken status quo of the district attorney’s office,” Khan said.

    Leo Briones, a longtime advisor to Rosen, told San José Spotlight the DA’s office isn’t interested in “push polls or political misinformation.”

    “DA Rosen is solely focused on verifiable numbers,” Briones said. “For example, three Family Assistance Centers serving hundreds of domestic violence survivors a year, 16 cold case murders solved so far, 23 hate crimes filed, 26 social justice reforms created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, 123 gun violence restraining orders filed, and more than 5,000 crime victims served by the Victims Services Unit, including the loved ones of those slain in the VTA mass shooting.”

    Chung did not respond to inquiries about the poll.

    Rich Robinson, political consultant and San José Spotlight columnist, questions the validity of the poll, but said it reveals some of Rosen’s weak points.

    “There’s a lot to do for challengers to unseat an incumbent,” Robinson said. “I’m surprised that (Rosen’s) name recognition is so low considering the way he does press throughout his tenure.”

    Rosen, first elected as the county’s top prosecutor in 2010, has run unopposed in the last two elections. He has traditionally been a tough-on-crime prosecutor, who garnered criticism for his handling of white-collar crime and domestic abuse cases, as well as his opposition to Senate Bill 1391, which bars the prosecution of 14- and 15-year-olds as adults.

    The district attorney has recently taken a more progressive stance on issues such as ending the death penalty and cash bail program. His name was also bandied around for the state attorney general post before Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Assemblyman Rob Bonta to replace Xavier Becerra.

    Khan has been a vocal critic of Rosen’s record. In 2020, Khan criticized prosecutors like Rosen in a now-deleted blog post for disproportionately criminalizing Black and Latino people. In response, Rosen filed a whistleblower complaint, which he later retracted, claiming that Khan’s blog post constituted a threat against him and the DA’s office.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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