As Hillary Rodham Clinton weighs a 2016 run for the White House, a new Field Poll suggests she's golden in the country's biggest blue state.
While it's too early to call California "Clinton Country," the poll's early glimpse reveals what could be a lopsided battle for a state that hasn't picked a Republican for president since George H.W. Bush in 1988 and hasn't elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006.
Fifty-six percent of California voters said they like the former U.S. secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, while 30 percent see her unfavorably. Meanwhile, half or more of the state's voters have no opinion of two Republicans mentioned as contenders -- U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky -- meaning they remain largely unknown. And among those who do know them, most don't like them.
"I just don't like everything I read about Rand Paul, but I like how Hillary can talk to the public and make sense when she talks," said Lynnda Tozier, a Democrat from Rodeo, summing up the sentiment of most Californians in the poll. And Marco Rubio is "not even on my radar."
That's the baggage that comes with having an "R" after your name in California, experts say, and the GOP will have to find new appeal to an ever-growing ethnic electorate if it ever hopes to turn that around.
"That really had a major impact in the last presidential election," Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said: 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried the state's white vote by 7 or 8 points, but lost the state by 23 points as Latino, black, Asian and other ethnic voters "overwhelmingly preferred the Democrat."
California Republicans have started stepping up their outreach to minority voters but have yet to see significant results, and some say a change in message won't help without some reconsideration of policy. Many of these voters are first- or second-generation immigrants who pick a party based on the policies they hear espoused, DiCamillo said, so comprehensive immigration reform is "the first order of business for the Republican Party to rehabilitate its image in California. If they're seen as an obstacle to that, it reinforces the negative perceptions ... that started with Prop. 187."
Proposition 187, introduced and supported by prominent Republicans and approved by voters in 1994, barred illegal immigrants from receiving public health care, education and other social services. It was deemed unconstitutional by the federal court that overturned it, but some say the vitriol behind it has ever since kept the state's growing Latino electorate from embracing the GOP.
Though action on immigration reform may be important to the GOP's California prospects, "the politics right now preclude that ... if you're looking on the national level," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a University of Southern California senior scholar and political expert.
Jeffe said California Republicans must appeal across party and ethnic lines. Elsewhere, however, Republicans remain concerned with satisfying and mobilizing their conservative base, she said.
GOP presidential contenders ultimately will care little about how the overall California electorate sees them, as they see little chance of winning a general election here, Jeffe said. "They can't ignore California in the primaries, but they will ignore it in the general election except for quick visits in and out to gather money."
The Field Poll of 846 California registered voters -- conducted June 26 through July 21, with a 3.5-point margin of error -- found Clinton's popularity up 4 points since December 2007, more than a year before she became secretary of state, DiCamillo noted. "Obviously the Benghazi brouhaha was kind of an outlier for her, and may linger if she does choose to run for president, but still she was a very active secretary of state and people here gave her very high marks."
Clinton has been criticized by some for her handling, before and after, of September's attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which claimed the lives of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Democrats view her positively nearly 8-to-1, and nonpartisan or third-party voters like her 2-to-1. Her favorable ratings from men, women, Latinos, whites, blacks and Asians run from 50 percent among whites to 66 percent of Latino voters.
About half of the Golden State's voters have yet to form an opinion of Paul or Rubio; only 22 percent of voters like Rubio while 26 percent don't, and 21 percent like Paul while 29 percent don't. Rubio is a bit more favored (39 percent) than Paul (36 percent) among registered Republicans, but Rubio's Cuban heritage apparently hasn't drawn Latino voters: Only 21 percent see him favorably, while 24 percent see him unfavorably.
Republican Carol Quint, 68, told the poll that none of these three possible candidates attract her. "The government is out of control, and I think all of those people have participated in that out-of-controlness," she said Wednesday.
Quint, who owns a small manufacturing business in Walnut Creek, said Clinton is too liberal, while Rubio and Paul haven't delivered on their conservative bona fides.
"I've been closely following the efforts to pass this immigration reform and I feel like Rubio betrayed what he said he was going to do," she said, faulting the Senate for kowtowing to Silicon Valley companies that want cheap labor without considering the effect on poor Americans. "We're going to have a giant mess on our hands if this is allowed to go through."