Likely voters favor school, water bonds Democrats have hairsbreadth to hefty leads in lower-profile statewide races.

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The Sacramento Bee

Voters are continuing to favor a statewide school bond measure despite hard economic times, and at least two of seven statewide constitutional officer races were in virtual dead heats a week before Tuesday’s election, according to a Field Poll released Friday.

“In the face of hard economic times, it looks like voters are prepared to expend greater amounts and take on more debt,” said pollster Mark DiCamillo.

The poll found that 57 percent of likely voters support Proposition 47, the largest bond measure in California history, with 29 percent opposed. The measure would raise $13 billion for an across-the-board overhaul of public school facilities, including the three college systems.

Proposition 50, a $3.4 billion water bond, is supported by a plurality of 42 percent, a gain from 38 percent in early September. But many voters – 24 percent – remain undecided.

DiCamillo said voters tend to look askance at bond measures during recessions. But this year, “it doesn’t seem to be having the effect I would have expected,” he said.

Voters also seem to like actor Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s initiative to set aside more money in the state budget for before- and after-school programs. The poll found 58 percent supporting Proposition 49, with 27 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided – a substantial jump in support from two months ago.

They are less enamored of an initiative that would allow people to register to vote the day of an election, with 40 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed.

In the “down-ballot” constitutional officer races, two Democrats are holding only the narrowest of leads – eBay executive Steve Westly, who is running for state controller, and Assemblyman Kevin Shelley of San Francisco, a candidate for secretary of state. Westly leads state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Simi Valley, 41 percent to 40 percent. Shelley is ahead of Keith Olberg, a former assemblyman, 39 percent to 36 percent. Both Democrats were behind in the Field Poll six weeks ago.

These races are well within the poll’s sampling error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points. But DiCamillo said the trend since the last poll in early September seems to favor Democrats.

“It looks a little to me like the Democrats are improving their standing in virtually all of the races,” he said.

With the other statewide Democrats enjoying wider leads, “chances are better now than they were six weeks ago that the Democrats could pull off a down-ballot sweep,” he said.

Republican Party spokesman Rob Stutzman didn’t see it that way. He said private polling shows that most of the races are close.

“This is going to become truly a turnout election,” he said. “We could grab half, if not more of them.”

The party has poured the most cash into the campaign of Gary Mendoza, a lawyer and former corporations commissioner running for insurance commissioner. Mendoza trails former lawmaker and former state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi by seven points, 38 percent to 31 percent.

Even though other Republicans are in tighter races, Mendoza’s opponent, Garamendi, is considered vulnerable because of actions during his first stint as insurance commissioner.

“Garamendi, in particular, has negatives that can be exploited,” he said. “Other Democrats on the ticket are not as target-rich.”

A consumer group this week accused the party of funneling insurance industry money to Mendoza, who like Garamendi had pledged not to take direct contributions from insurers. The industry gave almost $245,000 to the party, and the party gave more than $1 million to Mendoza, said the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Stutzman called the charge “a farce,” pointing out that the party gave Mendoza four times what the industry gave the party.

In other statewide races, incumbent Democrats held substantial leads over Republican challengers. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante led state Sen. Bruce McPherson 47 percent to 35 percent. Attorney General Bill Lockyer led state Sen. Dick Ackerman 43 percent to 29 percent. And Treasurer Phil Angelides was ahead of former Public Utilities Commissioner Greg Conlon 38 percent to 31 percent.

In the nonpartisan race for superintendent of public instruction, state Sen. Jack O’Connell led Katherine Smith, president of the Anaheim Union High School District board of trustees, 32 percent to 18 percent.

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The Bee’s John Hill can be reached at (916) 326-5543 or [email protected].

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