By Michael Doyle
Published: Thursday, Mar. 24, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 24, 2011 – 8:01 am

WASHINGTON – Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein remains more popular among California voters than her colleague Barbara Boxer, a new Field Poll shows.

But Feinstein can’t rest easy as she prepares for another re-election bid next year. For the first time since her initial 1992 election, less than half of the Californians surveyed consider themselves leaning toward Feinstein.

“It’s somewhat surprising, because she’s considered by many to be among the most popular politicians in California,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said Wednesday.

Forty-six percent of Californians surveyed between Feb. 28 and March 14 said they are “inclined” to vote for Feinstein next year. Forty-two percent are “not inclined,” and 12 percent call themselves undecided.

The pre-campaign showing 19 months before the next election, while not weak, is still Feinstein’s softest so far.

In March 2005, on the eve of Feinstein’s successful 2006 re-election bid, 53 percent of Californians surveyed said they were inclined to support her. The next year, Feinstein won easily, reinforced by support from some prominent Republicans.

Now, by a 6-to-1 ratio, California Republicans say they are not inclined to support Feinstein in 2012.

“This reflects the heightened partisanship that exists now in Washington,” DiCamillo said. “No matter how moderately she attempts to position herself, it’s not moderate enough.”

Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s longtime political consultant, attributed the latest poll results in part to “a political climate that’s difficult” for an incumbent.

Carrick said Feinstein “is running” for re-election, noting that she held a fundraiser this week in San Diego in between Senate business.

A proven fundraiser, Feinstein, 77, reported $3.8 million stored in her campaign treasury as of Dec. 31.

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