In the state controller's race, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican making her first run for statewide office, holds an early lead over a pair of better-known Democrats in a new Field Poll.
Swearengin has the backing of 28% of likely voters and derives much of her support from fellow Republicans. In the intraparty showdown for second place, state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee receives 19% and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez gets 14%. Thirty-eight percent are undecided and 1% prefer another candidate in the down-ticket contest.
Under the state's election system, the top-two finishers regardless of party proceed from the June 3 primary to the November general election contest to replace Controller John Chiang, a Democrat who is termed out and running for state treasurer.
Considered a rising star of the California GOP, Swearengin could give her hobbled state party the best chance at reclaiming a constitutional office. Her path to victory becomes considerably tougher should she finish in the top two.
"We're off to a really good start," Swearengin said. "We've still got a bit of the campaign left to go, but we're very pleased to start off strong."
Swearengin said people are starting to hear about Fresno and her work since she was elected mayor, helping bring the city back from the "edge of financial distress."
She said that as a San Joaquin Valley resident, she's bringing a unique perspective to the controller's race.
Swearengin counts as supporters 61% of conservatives and does well with non-college graduates, inland residents and voters over the age of 50. The likely electorate for the June 3 primary is 75% white, 67% over 50 and 37% Republican, said Mark DiCamillo , director of the Field Poll.
"Swearengin is definitely benefiting from the fact that this will be a low-turnout election," he said.
Yee and Pérez were fighting it out for the second spot in the poll. Although Pérez enjoys a massive cash-on-hand advantage, Yee outpolls him among women, liberals, voters over 50 and "middle-of-the-road voters" -- those who don't identify as liberal or conservative. Pérez's core supporters, meanwhile, constitute groups that are likely to participate in the primary in lesser numbers: Latinos, men and younger voters.
DiCamillo said the survey of the controller's race and a recent poll on the secretary of state's contest help shed light on the new primary system and underscore the impact of one party fielding multiple competitive candidates.
"When you have multiple viable candidates on one side, it gives an early advantage to the other (party)," he said.
The poll did not ask voters about a trio of lesser-known candidates, Democrat Tammy Blair, Republican David Evans and Green party candidate Laura Wells.
Swearengin, who considers the controller's office an overlooked post, is the least known of the three candidates in the survey: Just 36% have any opinion of her.
Pérez, one of the state's most powerful politicians, is recognized by 53% (28% favorably and 25% unfavorably.) Yee is known by 51% (28% favorably and 23% unfavorably). Nothing from the survey pointed to potential backlash from sharing a last name with disgraced Democratic Sen. Leland Yee, who was arrested March 26 on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic firearms.
"We didn't see a drop-off," DiCamillo said. "Nothing to write home about, anyway."
May 5: First day to vote by mail (also the day most sample ballots are mailed)
May 19: Last day to register to vote
May 27: Last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot by mail
June 3: Primary Election Day
Nov. 4: General Election Day
Fresno County: 2221 Kern St., Fresno; details: fblinks.com/fcvote or (559) 600-VOTE (8683)
Tulare County: 5951 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia; details: fblinks.com/tcvote or (559) 624-7300
Kings County: 1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Hanford; details: fblinks.com/kcvote or (559) 582-3211, ext. 4401
Madera County: 200 W. Fourth St., Madera; details: fblinks.com/madvote or (559) 675-7720
Merced County: 2222 M St., Merced; details: fblinks.com/mervote or (209) 385-7541
Mariposa County: 4982 10th St., Mariposa; details: fblinks.com/marvote or (209) 966-2007
MORE ONLINE: Keep up on the 2014 election and issues affecting the Valley at www.fresnobee.com/elections