U.S. Senate race to make history, no matter the victor

California Attorney General Kamala Harris favors national climate change legislation, backs immigration reform and supports President Barack Obama's plan for free tuition at community colleges. Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez describes her platform for the Senate as pro-environment, pro-labor and pro-civil rights. ; Credit: Courtesy candidates' campaigns
Mary Plummer Among the races before California voters today, the state’s U.S. Senate race will be a notable one, even in the unlikely event the polls are proven wrong.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris has held a consistent lead in the political polls over her opponent, Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. In the latest Public Policy Institute of California survey , Harris has a 22-point advantage.

The winner will succeed outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is retiring. The opening is rare for California’s U.S. Senate delegation and the race to fill it will be historic in key ways.

The contest for one represents the largest test so far of the state’s top-two system in which the two candidates with the most primary election votes move on to the general election, regardless of political party.

The process has placed two Democrats on the ballot for U.S. Senate and split traditional party alliances. 

Harris was the early favorite of the state Democratic Party, which endorsed her over her rival -- this despite Sanchez' 19 years in Congress.

President Obama also endorsed Harris over Sanchez and appeared in a TV ad for her, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a fundraiser for Harris in August.

Sanchez has made a pitch for Republican support by emphasizing her national security credentials as a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.

The two hold similar positions on major issues. For example, both support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, climate change legislation, and free or low community college tuition. 

Both women come from backgrounds rarely represented in the U.S. Senate.

If Harris wins, she will be the first biracial woman elected to the Senate. Harris is African-American and South Asian-American. Sanchez would be the first Latina senator.

Despite Harris' lead in the polls, about 20 percent of those surveyed in the PPIC poll remain undecided and another 18 percent said they don't plan to vote.

Republicans are particularly disengaged from the race, there being no GOP candidate to back. More than half of Republicans say they won’t vote or are undecided about how they will vote, said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and chief executive officer.

Harris will hold her election night returns party in Los Angeles and Sanchez will have hers in Santa Ana. 

Voting has begun in California. KPCC is here for you and will help you develop your Voter Game Plan . Use our election guide to find your personalized ballot.

This content is from Southern California Public Radio. View the original story at SCPR.org.

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