Donald Trump

A new poll indicates California Republicans who favor Donald Trump are largely motivated by opposition to illegal immigration. (Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)

By Cathleen Decker
September 13, 2015

Fueled by derision for politics as usual, Donald Trump has vaulted to the top of the Republican race for president among California voters, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Trump won the support of 24% of California Republicans surveyed, while Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and lesser-known conservative favorite, was backed by 18%. More than a dozen other candidates, most of them elected politicians, resided in the single digits, far behind the leaders.

The anti-establishment flavor of the Republican race contrasted with the predictability of the Democratic primary, in which longtime national front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton held an expansive lead in California over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others.

California voters are reflecting national trends: Trump and Carson lead the GOP field; Clinton leads strongly among Democrats.

The potential entrance of Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a 2016 bid, did little to diminish Clinton’s dominance, the poll found. In California, as elsewhere, the path forward for Biden remains difficult barring an utter collapse of Clinton’s candidacy, the results suggested.

Trump’s support rested on his blunt and often excoriating approach to the race — an approach that has confounded political insiders — and particularly on his tough talk about illegal immigration, a subject that has ricocheted through California politics for more than two decades and helped weaken the state Republican Party. The poll indicated Trump’s supporters were highly motivated by the issue.

“This is the first time I have heard a presidential candidate speak about something that is really important and has gotten out of control,” said Mario DiPasquale. “That is, illegal aliens, and nobody is doing anything about it.”

The 57-year-old Hawthorne Republican and Trump supporter said he’d had to “reinvent” himself professionally twice as earlier jobs became dominated by Latinos. He blamed Latinos for taking jobs and for engaging in crime.

“I grew up with blacks; I’m cool with them,” he said. “What I’m not OK with is everywhere you go it’s brown people, everywhere you go.”

With nearly nine months to go before California’s presidential primary closes out the nominating season, both contests remain fluid, with the GOP race particularly open to change. Among Republicans, 1 in 5 voters polled in the state was undecided about which candidate to back, and many candidates were unknown to a quarter or more of voters interviewed. Among those planning to cast ballots in the Democratic primary, about 1 in 6 was undecided.

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