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Poll In The 49th District Suggests Front Runners Have Changed

A map of the 49th Congressional District is shown in this graphic.

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: A map of the 49th Congressional District is shown in this graphic.

A new Democratic poll on the 49th congressional race to replace Republican Darrell Issa suggests the dynamics of the race have changed, as the campaigns spend millions of dollars to gain name recognition.

The telephone poll of 500 likely voters in late May shows Democrat Mike Levin taking the lead in a crowded field of 16 candidates vying to replace Issa. Levin is closely followed by Republican Diane Harkey. Both are from Orange County.

Photo credit: Mike Levin campaign

Democrat Mike Levin, a candidate in the 49th Congressional District race in an undated photo.

Harkey, a former state Assemblywoman, was endorsed by the Republican Parties of both Orange and San Diego counties. The Democratic Party has not endorsed any one of their four candidates, though Levin, an environmental attorney, came the closest during votes at the party convention.

Until now, the two front-runners had been Democrat Doug Applegate and Republican Rocky Chavez, both of Oceanside. Both are former Marine colonels in a district that includes Camp Pendleton. Applegate has good name recognition as the man who nearly defeated Issa in 2016, and Chavez has won supporters as a California assemblyman. In this week’s poll, they are running third and fourth respectively, with Democrat Sara Jacobs tied with Chavez for fourth place.

Photo credit: Diane Harkey campaign

Republican Diane Harkey, a candidate in the 49th congressional district race in an undated photo.

Chavez has raised the least money among the leading candidates, but his moderate stance gave him an edge in a district of predominantly Republican registered voters who nevertheless supported Hilary Clinton in 2016. He departed from Republican policy when he supported California Gov. Jerry Brown’s Cap and Trade legislation. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, calculating that Chavez would be harder for a Democratic candidate to beat in November, paid for TV ads attacking Chavez for approving Brown’s budget. This, plus Chavez's low campaign fundraising, may have contributed to his slide in the polls.

Renewed focus on evidence of Applegate’s difficult divorce and custody battle 2004 may have contributed to his lower ranking in this poll.

inewsource reports that Sara Jacobs benefitted the most from outside fundraising, with more than $2 million spent on her behalf by independent sources, including Emily’s List. Jacobs’ campaign also spent more than $2 million to raise her profile.

Democrat Paul Kerr, a real estate investor, has spent the most — more than $4 million — to raise his name recognition. But he's running a distant sixth in this poll, tied with Republican San Diego Supervisor Kristen Gaspar.

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