DeSantis leads Trump in California matchup

California’s large Republican electorate prefers Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former President Donald Trump, according to a new poll that captures shifting conservative preferences ahead of a contested presidential primary.

The Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released Friday suggests many conservatives are ready to move on from the former president and affirms that DeSantis would be the Republican most likely to draw voters from Trump. The tally also contains grim news for Vice President Kamala Harris as voters in the Democrat’s home state remain tepid on her presidential prospects.

Republicans in California would choose DeSantis over Trump in a head-to-head presidential matchup by a resounding 17 points, according to the poll. That advantage shrinks in a Republican field featuring former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republican contenders, but DeSantis still would enjoy a clear advantage over Trump in that scenario. He also has a higher favorability rating among Republicans than the former president.

California’s 5.2 million registered Republican voters could play an outsize role in the Republican presidential primary when they select a presidential candidate next March. The primary offers a prime moment of influence for voters who are often sidelined in the politics of the heavily Democratic state.

DeSantis will travel to California next week for a sold-out event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. After that talk, the governor is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Orange County. The county is a former Republican stronghold that has shifted purple in recent years and will host multiple frontline House races in 2024.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has relentlessly attacked DeSantis, using the Florida governor as a foil for California progressivism — a focus that underscores DeSantis’ position at the center of national Republican politics.

Harris could face a tough path to the presidency if Biden does not seek another term. The poll found a majority of California voters are unenthusiastic about the notion of Harris running in 2024 should Biden bow out — an increasingly unlikely scenario, with First Lady Jill Biden telling the Associated Press on Friday that the president had “pretty much” decided to run again. The vice president showed more strength among Democratic voters, a majority of whom said they were enthusiastic about a possible Harris campaign.

Those California headwinds echo Harris’s humbling 2020 campaign. After an ebullient campaign launch in Oakland, Harris slid behind non-Californian candidates in polls that indicated an inability to consolidate support in her home state. She dropped out before California voted.