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Poll: California voters playing coy with 2008 hopefuls

  • Story Highlights
  • Nearly two-thirds of GOP primary voters have not settled on a candidate
  • For Democrats, 38 percent say they are not certain of their vote
  • In poll, Republican front-runners in a statistical tie
  • Hillary Clinton tops Barack Obama in California, 47 percent to 31 percent
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By Paul Steinhauser
CNN deputy political director
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(CNN) -- California is the biggest prize on "Super Tuesday," with a total of 540 delegates at stake. But with just more than three weeks until the February 5 primary, a poll suggests the front-runner in California, at least among Republicans, appears to be indecision.

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GOP hopeful Rudy Giuliani makes a campaign stop in San Francisco, California, last month.

A CNN/Los Angeles Times/Politico poll released Monday indicates 61 percent of likely Republican primary voters have yet to make up their minds. Thirty-nine percent of those polled said their vote is certain.

The numbers are the opposite for likely Democratic primary voters, with 62 percent of those polled certain on their choice and 38 percent indicating they may vote for someone else.

"Californians are famous for not tuning into a political contest until just before the votes are cast. Many of them get their political information from TV ads, and it looks like the ad wars have not started yet in the Golden State. So a high number of undecided voters in California is not surprising at this stage of the game," said CNN polling director Keating Holland.

On Super Tuesday, California will join more than 20 states, including heavyweights New York, Illinois and New Jersey, that will hold either a primary or caucuses.

There are 370 Democratic delegates at stake in California. Sen. Hillary Clinton appears to be the front-runner, with 47 percent of likely Democratic primary voters backing the senator from New York. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois received the support of 31 percent of those polled. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina is in third place at 10 percent. The survey's sampling error for likely Democratic primary voters is plus or minus 5 percentage points. View the poll results »

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska have the support of less than 0.5 percent of those questioned.

Change appears to be the most pressing demand for Democratic voters in California. Forty-seven percent of likely Democratic primary voters say change is a priority, with 31 percent favoring experience. Asked which Democrat is most likely to bring about change, they say Obama, by a 6-point margin.

"So why are they voting for Clinton? Because they think she can win. By 48 to 33 percent, they pick Clinton over Obama as the candidate with the best chance of beating the Republican in November. Obama's got the goods Democrats want. But Hillary closes the sale on electability," said CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

The poll suggests the race for the GOP presidential nomination is up for grabs, with 20 percent of likely Republican primary voters in California supporting Sen. John McCain of Arizona as their nominee and 16 percent backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was at 14 percent, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 13 percent.

Taking into account the poll's sampling error of plus-or-minus 6 percentage points among the Republicans, the race is a statistical dead heat. There are 170 Republican delegates at stake in California.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is in fifth place in the survey, at 8 percent, with former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee at 6 percent and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California at less than 0.5 percent.

On the Republican side, a plurality of voters said McCain has the best chance of beating the Democratic presidential nominee.

The CNN/Los Angeles Times/Politico poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp. is the first survey in California to be conducted since last week's New Hampshire primary, which saw comeback wins by Clinton and McCain.

The front-runners in the California poll mirror the national polls. An average of the three national surveys of Republican voters taken since New Hampshire suggests McCain is in first place, with 32 percent support, followed by Huckabee at 20 percent, and Giuliani and Romney tied at 14 percent.

In the race for the Democratic nomination, Clinton leads CNN's poll of polls with 44 percent. Obama is at 33 percent and Edwards is at 11 percent. CNN's nationwide poll of polls is an average of three surveys: CNN/Opinion Research Corp., ABC/Washington Post, and CBS/New York Times, all conducted after the New Hampshire primary.

While the primary in California is 22 days away, early voting there is under way.

"The calendar says the California primary is February 5, but millions of Californians are voting right now. More than 40 percent of California voters have requested absentee ballots, and those ballots have already been sent out," Schneider said.

The race for the White House has already seen some dramatic swings just in the past two weeks, and there could be more to come. But a large number of California voters casting early absentee ballots could be immune from such swings.

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"California's huge pool of absentee voters are casting their ballots with limited information. There hasn't been much of a campaign in the Golden State. With no campaign, voters tend to make up their minds on the basis of name recognition and momentum. So we could end up with a California primary vote largely determined by where the campaign was weeks ago," Schneider said.

In California, 1,205 adults, including 384 likely Democratic primary voters and 255 likely Republican primary voters, were interviewed for this poll. The survey was conducted by telephone from January 11-13. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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