Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, leads two prominent Democrats -- Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and Assembly Speaker John Perez -- in the primary election race for state controller, the latest Field Poll finds.
Yee, of Alameda, is ahead of the better-known Perez, D-Los Angeles. But neither Yee nor Swearengin should pop the champagne corks just yet.
With 38 percent of likely voters still undecided, Perez has a huge fundraising lead and Swearengin -- with little money and a huge voter-registration disadvantage -- would face a steep uphill battle against either Democrat in November's higher-turnout general election.
The poll of 504 people likely to vote in the June 3 open primary found 28 percent support Swearengin, 19 percent support Yee and 14 percent support Perez, while 1 percent picked other candidates. The poll's margin of error is 4.5 percentage points.
Betty Yee is not related to state Sen. Leland Yee, now under federal indictment for allegedly taking bribes and conspiring to traffic guns. She doesn't seem to be suffering from the shared surname: Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said the poll, conducted March 18 through April 5, detected no change in her support before and after the senator was arrested March 26.
Tim Clark, Swearengin's campaign consultant, said the numbers "mirror the excitement and energy" she is raising around the state. "We intend to run a strong race for both the primary and general elections, energizing Californians with the mayor's plan for revitalizing our economy."
But Swearengin "is getting a large proportion of the early support of Republicans just because there aren't other viable Republicans in the race, while Democrats have two fairly established officeholders competing," DiCamillo said.
And Yee might be leading Perez because "57 percent of all registered Democrats in California are women," he added. "All other things being equal, a female candidate has an advantage over a male candidate. That would play especially in an early poll without any other influences going on."
Perez leads solidly among Latinos, DiCamillo noted, but they are a far smaller segment of likely voters.
Yee campaign spokesman Parke Shelton said her fiscal background helps, too: "There's a natural sense among voters that someone on the Board of Equalization would be a better controller than someone in the state Legislature."
Yet Perez's campaign had $1.8 million cash on hand as of mid-March, compared to Yee's $101,000. Swearengin, who entered the race late, has raised about $93,000 since the end of March. Most candidates' ad blitzes won't start until vote-by-mail ballots are sent out May 5.
"Nothing about this poll surprises me -- this is a constitutional office that has a fairly low profile, and the campaign has not yet begun in earnest," said Douglas Herman, Perez' campaign consultant.
Skelton said money means less in down-ticket races like this, noting that incumbent Controller John Chiang -- then a Board of Equalization member -- won 2006's Democratic primary despite being outspent by then-state Sen. Joe Dunn.
Here's what the Field Poll found when surveying 504 likely primary election voters from March 18 through April 5:
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin (R) -- 28 percent
Board of Equalization member Betty Yee (D) -- 19 percent
Assembly Speaker John Perez (D) -- 14 percent
Other -- 1 percent
Undecided -- 38 percent
(The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.)