California Poll Reorders Top Issues, Candidates The latest California Field Poll shows Republican voters are focused on immigration issues, while Democrats are most concerned about health-care reform. We examine candidates' policies on the matters.
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California Poll Reorders Top Issues, Candidates

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California Poll Reorders Top Issues, Candidates

California Poll Reorders Top Issues, Candidates

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, al-Qaida takes questions from would-be jihadis online - a Q&A with Ayman al-Zawahiri.

CHADWICK: First, just 13 days until what's being called Tsunami Tuesday - that's February 5th, the day that two dozen states hold presidential contests - the biggest one, the most delegates, is California. That's where we'll start today.

Mark DiCamillo is director of the Field Poll. That's the most authoritative opinion survey firm in the state. He has a new survey out today for Republicans.

Mark DiCamillo, hello.

Mr. MARK DiCAMILLO (Field Poll Director): Hello, Alex. How are you?

CHADWICK: I'm well, thank you. Now, let me just read the first sentence of your results that you published today. Here it is.

During the past month there has been a complete reordering of candidate preferences among Republicans likely to vote in California's primary election. Four weeks ago, Rudy Giuliani led, followed by Mike Huckabee. Today it's John McCain followed by Mitt Romney.

Isn't that pretty unusual?

Mr. DiCAMILLO: Very unusual. Never seen four candidates jockeying for position in a race so close to the election.

CHADWICK: Senator McCain was in fourth place. He's now in first place.

Mr. DiCAMILLO: Correct. When Giuliani was leading, McCain was not doing well. And now that Giuliani has kind of exited the stage - or at least he did so in the first month of the primary election season - McCain has captured much of his former support.

CHADWICK: You survey issues and how people feel about the candidates, so what explains your findings among the Republicans now?

Mr. DiCAMILLO: Well, McCain, I think, is appealing to the more moderate conservatives in the state. It's going to be interesting, though, to see how he addresses the illegal immigration issue. When we asked California Republicans what's the top issue of concern to them when deciding whom to support for president, illegal immigration actually heads the list. It's above the war in Iraq. It's above jobs and the economy. It's above the terrorist threat. So I think it's going to be very interesting, especially the day after Florida there will be a GOP debate in Los Angeles. I suspect that the issue of illegal immigration will be pivotal in deciding who Californians vote for.

CHADWICK: Let's talk about the Democrats, if we may, for a moment. Senator Clinton has a good solid lead over Senator Obama - 12 points. But the lead is narrowing.

Mr. DiCAMILLO: It's been narrowing a bit. Obama has gained in support over the past three or four months. He's now up to 27 percent support. I think he's benefited some by the withdrawal of the some of the other candidates. I think he would benefit more if Edwards were to get off the stage. But I don't think that's likely to happen before California. Hillary Clinton has a formidable base of support in California and right now appears to have a fairly comfortable lead.

CHADWICK: Let me ask you about the issues for the Democrats. I'm struck by how different they are from issues for the Republican voters.

Mr. DiCAMILLO: Very much so. At the top of the list, really, are three on Democratic voters' minds. They are health care, the war in Iraq, and jobs and the economy. What's striking, though, is that when you look at the supporters of each of the two leading candidates, their priorities are different from one another.

Clinton supporters are more likely to say jobs and the economy and health care are the most important issues to them, whereas Obama supporters are more likely to point to the war in Iraq and even to foreign policy concerns rather than domestic policy issues.

CHADWICK: Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll in California, with two new surveys out in the last two days of likely Democratic and Republican voters.

Mark, thank you.

Mr. DiCAMILLO: Thank you very much.

BRAND: And as Mark just said, immigration is the number one issue for California Republicans. Here's a sample of what the four top GOP candidates - Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Mitt Romney - had to say at a debate earlier this month in South Carolina.

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York; Republican Presidential Candidate): The others who've come here illegally should stand in line with everybody else who wants to come to this country and should not be given a special pathway or a special privilege...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. GIULIANI: be able - to be able to stay in this country.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas; Republican Presidential Candidate): And I will secure the borders first. And I will have the border states governors certify that those borders are secured.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): The point we need to make is that when people do come here, they ought to live with their heads up. They ought to life in the light, not the darkness. They ought to not be afraid of seeing a police car.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Republican Presidential Candidate): It would have been absurd to ask illegal immigrants reporting crimes about their illegal immigrant status because then you would not have gotten the information about the person who committed the murder, the person who committed the mugging, the person who committed the rape.

BRAND: Immigration makes for a tough balancing act for politicians in California. Thirty-five percent of the state's population is Hispanic, so candidates can't bee seen as too tough on immigration, and yet they still must appeal to their Republican base.

Joining me now is Ruben Navarrette of the San Diego Union-Tribune. And his column is also syndicated nationwide. Welcome to the program.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (San Diego Union-Tribune): Thank you.

BRAND: Now, Ruben, if you could go through the major candidates and outline their positions on immigration, where they stand and what they have said about it.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I think typically on the far right of the major four contenders who are left - which is Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee and McCain - at the far right of that group is Mitt Romney, who has staked out a position against, as he calls it, amnesty. He's got some competition with the next person in line there, who is Mike Huckabee, who has said boldly that he would get rid of all illegal immigrants within 120 days.

BRAND: So Romney is more conservative than Huckabee? I mean, rounding all of them up and kicking them out sounds pretty conservative to me.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: The Huckabee position is like 45 minutes old. So it really hasn't had - this business about, you know, rounding up and kicking them out through attrition, that's - it hasn't had time to sink in yet. People don't know if he really means it or if it's a contrivance for the election.

Romney, on the other hand, has been beating this drum for the better part of a year. When I listen to the Minutemen chatter, people at the far right of this discussion, they don't like Huckabee despite Jim Gilchrist's endorsement. They actually support Romney. Romney just the other day got the endorsement of Dana Rohrabacher, who's a hardliner on immigration issues. What hurts Huckabee with these conservatives is the way he behaved in Arkansas, where they thought he had a very lenient policy.

BRAND: That's where he let illegal immigrants have in-state tuition, right?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Have in-state tuition and government benefits and the like, and so they - he can say anything he wants today. But they're not so gullible. They're not just going to say, oh, yeah, he has the hard line rhetoric.

Beyond that, you have Rudy Giuliani next in line - further to the left, if you will - who has suggested that you could provide a path to legalization for people as long as there are background checks, as long as you secure the border, and make sure that you knew who you're dealing with here.

BRAND: And this is different than a path to citizenship.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. I mean, a path to citizenship means you can vote. You're a citizen. You can vote. A legal resident can't - they can't vote.

Lastly John McCain. John McCain is the one who's most fascinating. He's the one who was demonized from beginning as pro-amnesty. Hey, you authored this bill, co-authored this bill with Ted Kennedy that would provide amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. Shame on you. You'll never win the Republican nomination. And now what's happened? John McCain is the frontrunner.

BRAND: Well, explain that. Because if illegal immigration is the number one issue for Republicans here in California, why does he hold the lead?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It is a mystery. It is a fascinating question. But I think it has to do with the fact that while people are telling pollsters that immigration is a top issue - I don't doubt that it is for them, I don't think they're lying to the pollsters. But I think there are lots of issues that people draw from. I think they're concerned about the war and the economy and all these things. And so they don't necessarily vote the one issue. I think if you listen to the zealots, they make it seem as if they print out an immigration report card on somebody, they're going to take - the voters are going to take that into the polling booth and say, well, I'm going to vote strictly along immigration lines. I don't think that's happening.

BRAND: Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist. He's based in San Diego. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you. My pleasure.

BRAND: On the Democratic side, the top issue for California voters is health care. The three leading candidates - Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards - staked out their territory on this issue earlier this week at a debate in South Carolina.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Democratic Presidential Candidate): I believe that there is not a single man, woman and child in America who is not worthy of health care.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I think is imperative that we have plans - as both John and I do - that from the very beginning say, you know what, everybody's got to be covered. My plan combines employers and individual responsibility while maintaining Medicare and Medicaid.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): What is happening in Massachusetts right now - folks are having to pay fines and they don't have health care. They'd rather go ahead and take the fine because they can't afford the coverage. My core belief is that people desperately want coverage. And my plan provides those same subsidies.

BRAND: Joining me now to talk about the big issue for Democrats - health care - is Larry Levitt. He's the vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Welcome to the program.

Mr. LARRY LEVITT (Kaiser Family Foundation): Thanks.

BRAND: Well, I have to say, on the face of it, their proposals don't sound terribly different. They each - Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama - want affordable and high-quality universal coverage through a mix of private and public insurance. So, are they different at all?

Mr. LEVITT: You know there are some differences among the major Democratic candidates for president, but the truth is these proposals are all very similar when you compare them, for example, to what the Republican candidates are talking about.

BRAND: So they each want a mix of public and private insurance.

Mr. LEVITT: Right. None of these are, you know, what some have called socialized medicine. You know, this isn't a government takeover of the health care system. It's all very much based on private insurance, letting people keep the kind of coverage they have today. What it would do is - all these proposals would do expand that coverage. So all these plans would provide subsidies to low and middle-income people to help make insurance more affordable. They would all require some or all employers to pay for insurance for their workers. And at least two of the plans from Senator Clinton and former Senator Edwards would require everyone to have insurance.

BRAND: So by your analysis, would each plan, in fact, do what it promises, which is achieve universal health care?

Mr. LEVITT: Yeah, I think it's fair to say that Senator Clinton's plan and former Senator Edwards's plan would get very close to universal coverage. I mean there are some exceptions. For example, in the debate the other night, all of the candidates said that they would not cover undocumented immigrants. So it would not be full 100 percent coverage of absolutely everyone, but pretty close to universal coverage.

With Senator Obama's plan it's still a question and a matter of debate. He wouldn't require everyone to have insurance, but he would provide all the same subsidies or financial help for people to get more affordable insurance. And then it becomes a question of whether people voluntarily sign up for that coverage.

BRAND: So obviously if more people are covered, it's going to costs more. Who is paying for all this?

Mr. LEVITT: Yeah, that's a good question. And all the candidates have been upfront that this will cost more money. So they all have employers paying more to provide coverage to their workers, those employers who aren't providing coverage today. They would all not renew the tax cuts for higher-income Americans that President Bush has pushed - and those are the major financing sources.

BRAND: And I think what everyone who actually does pay for health insurance these days would like to know - will my premiums go down or up under these plans?

Mr. LEVITT: Yeah, well, they all have some proposals to lower the cost of health care, in addition to these financial subsidies. Certainly if you're a low or middle-income American, your cost of health insurance will go down. And ultimately, if we have a universal system with everyone in, it gives us a lot more leverage to bring down costs.

BRAND: Larry Levitt is vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Thanks a lot for joining us and clearing up this issue.

Mr. LEVITT: Oh, my pleasure.

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