A former charter school executive aiming to unseat California’s education chief has closed the gap in a race shaping up to be a proxy war between school reform advocates and the state’s powerful teachers unions, a new poll shows.
The poll released Tuesday by the San Francisco-based Field Research Corp. showed Marshall Tuck, who has the backing of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and funding from billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, three points ahead of incumbent Tom Torlakson.
Among likely voters polled by the organization, Tuck had support from 31 percent, compared to 28 percent who favored Torlakson as the campaign begins in earnest prior to November’s election.
Poll director Mark DiCamillo said that amounted to a statistical tie between the two men, falling well within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percent for likely voters.
However, 41 percent of those polled said they were undecided and when voters were asked whether they had a “favorable opinion” of each of the candidates, Torlakson far outpolled Tuck with 40 percent saying they did, compared to 27 percent for Torlakson.
The two men have raised almost the same amount of money and spent about the same during the first six months of the year, with Tuck taking in a large contribution from Broad and Torlakson relying on help from teachers unions, among others.
Tuck, who said he agrees with a controversial court decision overturning five state laws guaranteeing job protections for teachers, has won endorsements from the state’s major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee.
Torlakson, a former teacher who has served in numerous elected positions and has been the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction since 2010, opposed the decision and backs the state’s decision to appeal it.
Cynara Lilly, campaign strategist for Tuck, said her candidate’s slight edge among likely voters was in keeping with research conducted for the campaign.
Torlakson’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The poll of so-called down-ballot races, meaning it excluded the top job of governor, also showed that Democratic candidates were heavy favorites, not a surprising outcome in a state where the party controls all statewide elective offices and both houses of the legislature.
The poll of 467 likely voters in California was conducted by telephone the week of Aug. 14-28.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Bill Trott)