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Poll Shows No Clear Frontrunner Exists in 24th District Congressional Race

Republican Katcho Achadjian leads, but 37 percent say they haven't made up their minds

Nearly a year ahead of next year's primary, the battle for the 24th Congressional District seat is already lively — not because there is a clear front-runner, but because there is not one.

The top two Democrats in the contest, Helene Schneider and Salud Carbajal of Santa Barbara, are trading news releases about endorsements, campaign fundraising and, most recently, a poll that shows Schneider leading Carbajal.

But both are trailing Republican front-runner Katcho Achadjian overall.

Schneider's lead, even after Carbajal raised nearly $400,000 more than she did for the first campaign-finance reporting deadline, could be construed as somewhat of a surprise.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of the poll results is that 37 percent of voters are undecided.

"At this stage of the game, we don't know who the leading candidate is," said Michael Latner, a professor of political science and public policy at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. "There's not a lot of information out there about the candidates."

Latner said the poll shows name recognition among likely voters. Achadjian is ahead, he said, because he is the longest-serving elected official and the highest-ranking official among the candidates as a member of the California State Assembly. 

It's no surprise that Carbajal would have a fundraising lead, but not a lead among voters, Latner said.

Helene Schneider

"It shows that Carbajal has been able to successfully take Lois Capps' organization," he said. "They have more or less bestowed their organizational structure on him. The rank and file party members have lined up behind Carbajal, but I am not sure that says anything about his electoral viability."

Capps, who has represented the district since 1998, endorsed Carbajal shortly after she announced her retirement in April.

So far, Carbajal is the only candidate to decline early participation in debates, a challenge laid down by Schneider a month ago.

On Monday, Achadjian and two other candidates — Republican Justin Fareed and Democrat William Ostrander— agreed to participate.

Schneider paid $20,000 to Washington, D.C.-based firm Lake Research Partners for the poll, which sampled 350 people from throughout the district, including San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The margin of error is +/- 5.2.

Scroll down to see Noozhawk charts showing poll data.

The poll showed Achadjian favored by 24 percent of the voter; Schneider in second with 16 percent; Carbajal third with 11 percent; Fareed with 10 percent; and Ostrander at 1 percent.

Salud Carbajal

The largest number was the 37 percent of voters who are undecided. 

The pollsters reached their conclusions based off of reading favorable descriptions about each candidate.

Here's how they described Schneider:

"A moderate Democrat with a record of bringing Republicans and Democrats together, improved local infrastructure, moved people to get things done, invested in police and fire services, protected the environment and turned city's finances around during the recession and protected every city youth program and senior nutrition program during the recession."

Lake Research cobbled together positive messages for the other candidates from their campaign websites. Celinda Lake, partner with Lake Research Partners, said they used no negatives during the campaign.

Lake said she is not surprised by the large number of people who are undecided because voters are "ebbing and flowing," particularly in California, which has an open primary and people can vote for whomever they want, regardless of party registration. The top two vote-getters in the primary election get onto November's ballot.

Katcho Achadjian

Lake also said there's no correlation between fundraising and voter opinions this early in the race.

"Fundraising doesn't relate to the initial vote," Lake said. "It relates to your ability to get the message out. Katcho actually has raised less money, but was particularly strong in the polls."

Achadjian agreed that Carbajal's fundraising lead doesn't mean he is going to be one of the top two next June. There are too many undecided voters.

"I think that number reflects that all the candidates have a lot of work ahead of them," Achadjian said.

"The voters want to know who the most qualified person to represent them is, and who will be their voice in Washington, D.C. It is up to the candidates to show the voters why they deserve their vote."

Still, Achadjian, state assemblyman for the 35th District and a former San Luis Obispo County supervisor, said he is pleased that he is in the lead.

"It is a good start and I am looking forward to building on this lead," he said.

"I have been working hard to show the voters my track record and qualifications. I think this poll is proof that our message is resonating with the voters."

Justin Fareed

Fareed, a former star Santa Barbara High School athlete and Division One UCLA Bruin football player, said he is encouraged by the poll results. 

"All of my opponents have been in politics for a long time, so to have roughly one-third of the constituency undecided is a positive indicator that people are looking for something different," said Fareed, Vice President of Pro Band Sports Industries. "People are really looking for a fresh approach, someone with energy and a candidate who can represent them."

Fareed said there's lots of room for upward mobility of the candidates this far out. 

"It's a long race," he said. "It is going to be a marathon. The poll shows people are keeping an open mind about who they are going to vote for."

The survey took about 12 minutes, Lake said, adding that one of the main purposes of the polls was to get a sense of where voters stand this early in the campaign.

"We had no idea where Helene would be," Lake said. "It was always our goal to get an assessment, but we didn't want to distract from fundraising. It was part of our long term plan."

Latner said Carbajal's big fundraising doesn't translate to voter popularity, but it could scare away other donors from giving to his chief South Coast opponent, Schneider. 

Cory Black, spokesman for Carbajal's campaign, would not comment directly on Schneider's poll.

"Salud's proud to have the support of Congresswoman Lois Capps, and he is working hard to earn the support of voters across the Central Coast," Black said.

"He is focused on building an economy, where every family that works hard can get ahead, and preserving our environment and coastline for future generations to enjoy our special quality of life."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.


Behind Helene Schneider's Poll: A Look at the Numbers

Helene Schneider, mayor of Santa Barbara, is running for the 24th District U.S. Congressional seat in the 2016 election. 

Her campaign team released polling results on July 29 from a 350-person survey. 

Noozhawk obtained access to the demographics behind the poll, which showed that 37 percent of those surveyed are still undecided. 





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