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California Counts: Front-Runner Harris Target In US Senate Debate

From left to right: Duf Sundheim, Kamala Harris, Loretta Sanchez, Ron Unz, Tom Del Beccaro at a debate at KPBS in San Diego, May 10, 2016.
Milan Kovacevic / KPBS
From left to right: Duf Sundheim, Kamala Harris, Loretta Sanchez, Ron Unz, Tom Del Beccaro at a debate at KPBS in San Diego, May 10, 2016.

California Counts: Front-Runner Harris Target In US Senate Debate
Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris was leading in a Field Poll last month, with 27 percent of the vote. The poll also showed 48 percent of likely voters in the race remain undecided.

Our top story, five candidates the final debate and almost half the electorate undecided. The topics last night covered included immigration, the environment, college affordability. Andrew Baldwin brings us the highlights of the California counts U.S. Senate debate. Welcome to our California counts debate -- It was mostly civil in contrast to the mudslinging antics of the presidential debates. California attorney general Kamala Harris , is leading in the polls she supports the law passed to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Two thirds of minimum-wage workers are women. If she's a mom, she's probably holding down two jobs. She's not spending a whole lot of time with those children that she wants to spend time with. She has to feed them, she has to feed them. Her main opponent is Lorena Sanchez. The biggest contrast between the two of them was their style. Harris spoke swiftly. Sanchez spoke slowly, at times almost whispering. Or she is answering a question. Having 100% voting record on the environment, we need to incentivize new technology, we need to enforce the clean air act and we need to put Californians admission standards across our nation. Ron Unz supports increasing the minimum wage, making a name for himself by running for governor in the 90s and California's ban on bilingual education. Wages could be raised by allowing fewer legal immigrants into the United States. It's supply and demand. The more workers, the more pressure there is on the wages of existing workers. Tom Del Beccaro is the former head of the state Republican Party. He said the state is to divided and Congress should focus on areas where there is agreement. We can agree on nationals's -- security. How long are we going to wait for that? Those concerns about terrorism are echoed by Sundheim. When you have so many people saying they are targeting us, we need to make sure that we keep them out until we are able to be certain they won't create a problem. Most of the attacks targeted Harris, they didn't impress and 18-year-old, a freshman at San Diego State. She said Harris is confident and has the most experience. She knows what she's talking about and she has views that can be put into the Senate and work. The top tube vote getters will face off in November, regardless of their party. Poll suggests that they would be Harris and Sanchez. A recent survey found 48% of likely voters remain undecided. That suggests there are plenty of California voters who are still up for grabs. Andrew Baldwin, KPBS news.

California Counts: Front-Runner Harris Target In US Senate Debate
Front-Runner Harris Target In US Senate Debate GUEST:Carl Luna, political science professor, San Diego Mesa College

Did the big -- debate help anyone make up their minds? Almost half of California voters are still under fight -- undecided. Joining me now is Carl Luna professor of political science it San Diego Mesa College. Any defining moments in this debate? There was some interesting moments, the attack on the front runner was expected. Ron Unz had some interesting remarks on global warming. There was not a moment that made my heart go pitter patter and this is really engaging. I don't think the debate, for as well it was done, it was a wonderful production. The candidates were not up to the stage they were on. I did not see passion. It was a simple affair, there has to be a middle ground between boring and yawning and incendiary burning down the house. If you are running for Senate, one of the 100 most powerful seats in the world. You need to have passion. Many people noted that Kamala Harris was the target. Here's a sample from Duf Sundheim in the very first response of the debate . The thing that differentiates us is that I will stand up for you. She has repeatedly shown that she will always side with her donors. Even if she's taking on people that are the most vulnerable amongst us. Carl, do you think any of the criticisms were effective? Most of them were kind of inside the ballpark. There were the vague allegations about she would support this group or that. You couldn't nail her on anything. She basically, deflected. Her campaign sees themselves at three minutes in the Super Bowl, sitting on the ball, not taking risks. When there was a contest in the Republican presidential race, there was speculation in the GOP Senate candidates. Is there anything, considering there is no real contest in the Republican race anymore, anything that could of done that last night? None of the candidates became a Trump supporter, taking a harsher line, that was nice. They were kind of sitting with little stuff, they didn't rise to the occasion. I don't think any of the three candidates moved the needle to make it into the runoff. Speaking of the runoff, we hear that the front runner Kamala Harris , but Loretta Sanchez may make eight -- make it to November. There was talk about her style during the debate. The whispering seemed odd to people. She was trying for intensity and it came across more as, I can't even describe it. A Shakespearean presentation, it went too far. Kamala Harris was very straightforward. Sanchez was not able to distinguish yourself. How is she trying to distinguish yourself? More of a style issue. A different outreach two different constituents. We know she comes from Orange County. She is more conservative. The difference for the average voter in June is simply not established. Harris would not answer a question last night about her opinion on the storage of nuclear waste at San Onofre. That question was asked by the Misa Schama. San Onofre closed in 2012 after a radioactive leak. Why has your office chosen to defend the California coastal commission's decision to allow more than 1 million Why has your office chosen to defend the California coastal commission's decision to allow more than 1,000,000 pounds of waste -- nuclear waste to be buried near the shoreline, even though it acknowledges that that waste could be underwater eventually. What you are aware of is that my office is engaged in a criminal investigation of the conduct. This is separate from that. This is a California coastal permit that allows nuclear waste to be buried near the shoreline and the coastal commission acknowledges that that site could be underwater. I have a client, I am a lawyer for the state. The California coastal commission is an agency for the state and I cannot talk about it. The process that occurs between a client and attorney cannot be discussed. That's an issue that concerns a lot of us. Do you think Harris lost points? Not particularly, the issue is what are you going to do with this stuff? No one has a good solution. The risk factor is currently low, at some point we meet -- will have to figure that out. For most people voting for Senate aren't voting on nuclear waste, unless one of the opponents are saying Kamala Harris will kill San Diego's with nuclear waste. Short of that, it is a lesser issue. That was the theme. You don't keep immigrants out because we are not producing enough jobs, you educate your workforce to produce. So employers will pay a premium for California labor. From you, Carl Luna, we are hearing that it was a good debate but it lacked vision. It lacked a pulse. That was the issue. I have been speaking with Carl Luna, professor of clip -- political science at San Diego Mesa College. Inc. you. Inc. you. Last night's debate was part of our California counts election coverage, to read more go to KBPS.org/election.

U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris, the front-runner in the race, fought off attacks from four challengers during a debate Tuesday night at KPBS in San Diego.

The Democratic attorney general for California had the lead in a Field Poll last month, with 27 percent of the vote. The poll also showed 48 percent of likely voters in the race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer remain undecided.

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

Even in opening statements, Republican Duf Sundheim attacked Harris for being a career politician.

Harris later was attacked by her opponents for allowing nuclear waste from the shuttered San Onofre power plant to be buried near the shoreline.

The attorney general said she could not address the question specifically because the California Coastal Commission is involved and that's her client. She said there's an active criminal investigation into the 2013 closure of the nuclear power plant.

"We're going to go where the facts lead us," she said.

"California Counts — Race for the Senate," the second debate of the campaign, was hosted by KPBS in partnership with KPCC in Pasadena, KQED in San Francisco and Capital Public Radio in Sacramento.

On other questions, the two Democrats and three Republican candidates fell along party lines.

Harris and Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County both support California's new plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next six years.

Republicans Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro oppose it. Both are lawyers and both are former heads of the California Republican Party.

Republican Ron Unz said he feels California's $15 an hour wage is too high, but supports a national minimum wage of $12 an hour. Unz is an entrepreneur, writer and publisher who ran for governor in 1994 against Pete Wilson.

To a question on whether California should allow more refugees, Harris and Sanchez said the state should be more welcoming.

"We have to be a beacon to bring and help those people," Sanchez said.

Harris said she worries rhetoric against refugees is anti-Muslim.

"We have to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters," she said. "We have to live true to our values as a country."

Del Beccaro and Sundheim said the state should not allow in refugees until the FBI can be certain the people coming in are not terrorists.

"We've been lucky that for 200 years we've had two oceans and two kind neighbors protecting us," Del Beccaro said. "We need to wake up and realize the world has changed."

Sundheim said while the United Staes should keep refugees out, it should provide resources to Europe to help care for them.

"We have a responsibility to look after these people, but we can't let them into our country," he said.

Sanchez and Harris also said the country needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Del Beccaro said it's time for the country to give up on immigration reform and focus instead on national security. Unz said he'd be in favor of some immigration reform but also wants "a drastic cut in legal immigration levels."

In answer to an audience question from a San Diego State University student on how each candidate would make college more affordable, Unz called out both rising tuition and textbook costs.

U.S. Senate debate playlist

Del Beccaro said the country should not have pushed students away from trade schools in past years, and said it was a mistake to allow the government to take control of the student loan program.

Sanchez said she wants to make community college free and create a program that allows students to refinance their college loans.

The top two vote-getters in the June 7 primary, regardless of party, will advance to the November election.

Copyright 2016 KPBS. To see more election coverage, visit www.kpbs.org.