California US Senate candidates meet in first debate

California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.
Courtesy candidates' campaigns

With only six weeks remaining until the primary, the five candidates to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer are vying for attention from voters.

They'll meet onstage for the first time Monday night in a live televised debate hosted by the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

The first open Senate seat in decades was expected to attract outsize attention and a strong field of candidates, but so far has drawn mostly yawns from voters and prompted a low-profile campaign. Polls show about half of likely voters remain unengaged in the race and undecided about whom to support.

A Field Poll earlier this month found Democratic state Attorney General Kamala Harris in the lead with support from 27 percent of likely voters.

The top two finishers will appear on the June 7 primary ballot.

Sanchez, a firebrand Democratic congresswoman from conservative Orange County and the second-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, came in second in the Field Poll with 14 percent support among likely voters.

Physicist and entrepreneur Ron Unz and two former state GOP chairmen, Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim, were all within the margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points in the poll. All are hoping for a breakthrough moment Monday to help attract voters.

Unz, who entered the race in mid-April, is best known for backing a 1998 initiative to end bilingual education in California. The moderate Sundheim is campaigning as the anti-Donald Trump candidate in blue California, pledging a tone of compromise and adaptability.

Democrats are strongly favored to retain the seat in November. The party controls every statewide office and holds a 2.7 million edge in voter registration.