In new poll, challenger Robert Luna has lead over L.A. County Sheriff Villanueva

In the Los Angeles County sheriff’s race, retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna has an impressive 10-point lead among likely voters over incumbent Alex Villanueva, a new poll shows.

With just over a month until the Nov. 8 runoff, 36% of likely voters polled said they plan to vote for Luna, while 26% said they prefer Villanueva, according to the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental poll Studies, which was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Likely voters are those who voted in a recent election and have expressed a keen interest in voting in November.

Another 36% of likely voters remain undecided, the poll found — a critical block of unclaimed votes that leaves the race still open.

“It’s still a big chunk undecided,” said Mark DiCamillo, who led the poll and has been polling California voters for decades. Villanueva, he added, “appears to be lagging, which is a significant finding. Most incumbents typically survive re-election unless there’s a major scandal or something that really drags them down.”

Villanueva’s poor showing in the poll shows how during his first term he has become a polarizing figure, mired in a constant stream of controversy: 44 percent of likely voters said they view him negatively, and 29 percent have a positive one opinion of him.

Dislike for Luna, meanwhile, is lower – 33% of likely voters view him positively, while 13% view him negatively – but he remains unknown to many voters. More than half of likely voters — 54% — said they had no opinion of Luna, and even among those who say they support him, 1 in 5 have no opinion of him, according to the poll.

Those numbers underscore how the sheriff’s race is shaping up largely into a referendum on Villanueva.

In his four years at the helm of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, Villanueva has emerged as a brazen, unpredictable leader who presented himself as an antidote to “waking up” liberal forces and severing his agency’s ties to the rest of county government by killing members of the Landes aggressively attacked the Board of Supervisors and the guard dogs appointed to keep the sheriff in check.

Villanueva came under fire again last month when sheriff’s deputies searched the home and office of District Superintendent Sheila Kuehl and others as part of a criminal investigation widely viewed as political retaliation against one of Villanueva’s harshest critics. Only 39% of likely voters surveyed believed the crackdowns and other public corruption investigations launched by the Sheriff’s Department were legitimate.

a previous one Berkeley A poll conducted in August found that 31% of LA County registered voters polled supported Luna, while 27% supported Villanueva, with support for the candidates falling largely along political lines. In the current poll, Luna’s lead among all registered voters has grown to 5 percentage points. However, with the campaign now in its final stages, the gap between the likely voters gives a more accurate picture of the state of the race.

As in the previous poll, Luna is still heavily favored by Liberals and Democrats, while the incumbent sheriff is more popular with Conservative and Republican voters. That’s a vulnerable spot for the sheriff, since LA County Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans. The two candidates shared bipartisan voters – with 29% for Villanueva and 32% for Luna.

“Villanueva obviously has a bigger name identity, and a lot of voters, especially Westside or Democrats, just know they don’t like Villanueva,” said Brian VanRiper, a political adviser who has worked on numerous Los Angeles City Council races. “So they will vote for whoever runs against Villanueva.”

Villanueva, meanwhile, has sought to spoil Luna for voters by questioning his credibility and qualifications. During debates and other public comments, he has attacked Luna for being a longtime Republican who had registered as a Democrat in recent years, and claimed that a series of scandals in the Long Beach Police Department unfolded when Luna boss was.

At a recent debate co-hosted by the Los Angeles Times, Villanueva was questioned by a moderator about his comments, which are widely perceived as derogatory towards the black community. Villanueva tried to draw attention to Luna by claiming he abused an incident in Long Beach in which a member of the department’s homicide squad drew a family tree of convicted murderers with a noose around the neck of a black man.

VanRiper said Villanueva’s strategy was not to take the questions seriously and “just launch Haymaker on Luna — and I think he executed that strategy.” But, he added, he doesn’t think Villanueva is convincing people of that have not to vote for Luna.

The poll found that 45% of likely black voters prefer Luna, while just 16% said they would vote for Villanueva.

During the same debate, Villanueva portrayed Luna as someone who would be a “puppet” for the county board of directors, which controls the sheriff’s department budget, while Luna accused the sheriff of causing the acrimonious relationships Villanueva had with other county leaders Has. Asked about Kuehl’s controversial investigation, Luna said he had referred the case to an outside agency.

Probable voters were quite divided on whether they viewed the sheriff’s department’s corruption investigations, including the recent raid on Kuehl’s home, as legitimate or as an act of political retaliation. While just under 4 in 10 likely voters said the raid was legitimate, 3 in 10 felt it was retaliatory. The remainder said they had no opinion or were unsure.

One of the clearest findings from the poll is that a large majority of likely Luna-preferring voters thought the raid was a retaliatory strike, while a large majority supporting Villanueva said they thought it was legitimate.

Seventy percent of likely voters who favor Villanueva thought the investigations were legitimate, while seven percent thought they were retaliatory. Meanwhile, 62% of likely voters who prefer Luna thought it was retaliatory, while 22% thought it was legitimate.

“You see the clearest difference in support based on how people view … the ongoing investigation,” DiCamillo said. “If people think it’s political retaliation, almost everyone votes for Luna. This is a key weakness for the acting sheriff.”

The new poll numbers generally reflect what was widely seen as Villanueva’s poor performance in the June primary, where he received 31% of the vote against a crowded field of challengers. Luna received 26% of the vote, with the remaining votes split between the seven other candidates, who have all since endorsed Luna.

VanRiper said it was “highly unlikely” that the 69% of voters who voted against Villanueva in the primary would vote for him now. And in the general election, he said, there will be higher turnout, which is likely to become even more liberal.

“I don’t see a way for Villanueva unless the election is far away,” VanRiper said.

The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted Sept. 22-26 among 4,293 registered Los Angeles County voters, of whom 3,356 were considered likely to vote in the November election. The sample was weighted to match census and voter registration benchmarks. Accurate estimates of the margin of error are difficult because of the weighting, but the results are estimated to have a margin of error of approximately 2 percentage points in either direction for the full sample of registered voters and approximately 2.5 points for the likely sample of voters. In new poll, challenger Robert Luna has lead over L.A. County Sheriff Villanueva

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