Poll: Sanders holds 7-point lead in crucial California primary

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic MORE (I-Vt.) leads the pack of Democratic presidential contenders in California, a Super Tuesday state that may prove to be one of the most crucial prizes of the party’s nominating contest, according to a Monmouth University poll released Thursday.

Sanders carries 24 percent support in California — a 7-point lead over his closest rival, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Biden clarifies comments comparing African American and Latino communities Kanye West may have missed deadline to get on Wisconsin ballot by minutes: report MORE, who registered 17 percent support in the state.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is running in third place with 13 percent support. He’s trailed by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden VP race is highly fluid days before expected pick Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package MORE (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegCNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan dies How Republicans can embrace environmentalism and win MORE at 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

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Sanders’s lead in the Golden State isn’t new. He’s led in public polls there for months. But the Monmouth poll is the latest sign that the Vermont senator is heading for a top finish in a Super Tuesday state that holds the key to more delegates than any other.

“California is the big prize on Super Tuesday. As the poll currently stands, it’s possible that only two or three candidates reach viability in any given congressional district," Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

"That would enable Sanders to rack up half the delegates or more while only earning one-quarter of the total vote."

In 2016, voters in California didn’t cast their ballots in the presidential primary until June. But the state moved in 2017 to leapfrog its way to Super Tuesday, the March 3 primary day when more than a third of delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be up for grabs.

A victory in California would be a massive windfall for Sanders, possibly helping him rack up a delegate lead that could be difficult for his rivals to overcome. 

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In a memo issued this week, advisers to Bloomberg, who will first appear on primary ballots on Super Tuesday, warned that Sanders would be “all but impossible to defeat” after the March 3 nominating contests if the campaign’s current delegate projections hold.

In another boon to Sanders, the new poll shows him as the candidate most often cited as California voters’ second choice in the primary. Sixteen percent said that the Vermont senator is their No. 2 pick for the nomination, while 12 percent pointed to Warren and 10 percent to Biden.

Still, a plurality of likely Democratic primary voters in California — 45 percent — said that there’s still a possibility that they change their mind before they cast their ballots. Thirty-one percent said they were firmly decided on their choice, and another 10 percent said they have already voted early.

What’s more, there are still two nominating contests between now and Super Tuesday — the Nevada caucuses on Saturday and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29 — that could help reshape the dynamics of the race before most voters in California cast their ballots.

The Monmouth University poll surveyed 408 likely California Democratic primary voters from Feb. 16-19. It has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.