Jovanka Beckles (left) and Buffy Wicks are competing for Assembly District 15. A new poll shows Beckles has a 4% lead. Photo: KQED/campaign websites

See update at the end of the story.

A new poll of the 15th Assembly District race shows Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles ahead of Buffy Wick by four points but shows that Wicks has slightly better name recognition and is slightly better liked than Beckles. The poll was commissioned by Beckles backers and the result is within the margin of error.

EMC Research interviewed 400 likely voters by landline, cellphone and in an email-to-web survey between Oct. 25 and Oct. 29, according to a press release put out by SEIU Local 1021, which backs Beckles. This was before Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Beckles on Monday.

The poll showed that Beckles led Wicks in the race for state assembly 43% to 39% with 17% of the voters still undecided, according to the release.

“Beckles has widespread support throughout the district,” according to the release. “A plurality of voters support Beckles in Oakland (48% support), Berkeley (48% support), and Richmond (49% support). In addition, Beckles leads among women (47% to 35%), No Party Preference voters (46% to 33%), and voters of color (49% to 36%).”

The poll has a margin of error of ±4.9 percentage points. Experts in polling recommend using an average of polls rather than any single poll to get a sense of where voters stand. The EMC poll is the only one publicly released in the AD15 race. Campaigns and supporting political action committees generally only release polls that are favorable to their candidate.

On recognition and favorability, the two candidates are essentially tied in the poll, given the margin of error. Wicks has slightly better recognition (82% of those polled recognized her, while 80% recognized Beckles), and is slightly better liked (Wicks has 49% favorable and Beckles has 46% favorable).

The two candidates are running for the seat being vacated by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who is stepping aside to run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Beckles, 55, has served on the Richmond City Council for eight years; Wicks, 41, of Oakland, has never held political office but has worked for decades in Democratic political campaigns, including those of President Barack Obama, and also worked at the White House and for various unions.

“I am of course happy that it shows me ahead,” Beckles wrote in an email. “But I note the large number of undecided voters, the small gap, and the fact that the margin between me and my opponent is within the error margin of the poll. We will, therefore, maintain our dedicated focus and continue to reach out to the voters with the tenacity that has become a hallmark of our campaign. I am extremely grateful to my enthusiastic volunteers for keeping up their support for our people-powered campaign. We’ll keep on working hard until the polls close!”

Two political action committees paid for the poll, according to Chris Flink, SEIU Local 1021 communications specialist. They are East Bay Working Families, which is heavily backed by SEIU, and The California African American PAC, which has a range of corporate and union donors.

East Bay Working Families has spent $8,000 on polling for Beckles and another $277,681 on mailers, door hangers, social media advertising, and fieldwork, according to campaign finance records. The PAC also spent $7,412 in anti-Wicks mailers. Donors to the PAC include SEIU Local 1021 PAC; M. Quinn Delany, chair of the Akonadi Foundation; a Teamsters Union PAC; the Unity PAC, which is supported by the Alameda County Labor Council; and an AFL-CIO PAC.

The California African American PAC spent $6,500 for the poll on top of the $39,330 it spent in campaign literature for Beckles.

The backers of the California African American PAC include the SEIU United Healthcare workers, Tesla, Facebook, a Chevron PAC, PG&E, Disney, the California Charter School Association PAC, Eli Lilly, Sempra Energy of St. Louis, Calpine, the California Real Estate PAC, the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Young’s Market Company of Tustin, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, Charter Communications of St. Louis, and others.

The Wicks campaign downplayed the significance of the poll and said the race will be decided in the field.

“Talking and engaging with voters is the most reliable data you can gather, which is why we have knocked on more than 90,831 doors and have held more than 235 listening sessions,” Wicks said in an email. “Throughout the next week leading up to election day, we’ll have volunteers out in every neighborhood of the district to get out our message of ending homelessness, real housing solutions, criminal justice reform and smart environmental policies.   This race will be won through grassroots organizing and we have been building for 18 months to seize this moment. I’ll continue to ask voters to place their confidence in me and I will deliver for AD 15.”

Update, 7 am: On Wednesday night, Beckles sent out an email saying she was “disturbed” to learn that “corporations, billionaires, and interest groups like Chevron, Tesla, Sheryl Sandberg, and the California Medical Association,” were funding the California African American PAC and that their money had gone to support her. She disavowed their involvement in her campaign and “rejected” the spending on her behalf. (Since the California African American PAC is an independent expenditure committee and operates independently, Beckles has no control over how they use their funds.)

“As long as corporations, billionaires and interest groups can use their wealth to control our political system, we will never achieve a world where working people — Black, white, brown, immigrant, native born, gay, or straight — are truly free,” Beckles said in a press release. Beckles called upon Wicks to disavow the corporations and people that have put $1.2 million into the IEs backing her. Wicks told Berkeleyside a few weeks ago that she would not do that. She mentioned one PAC, in particular, to explain her reasoning, Govern for California. While that PAC supports the expansion of charter schools (Wicks has called for more transparency for them and an end to for-profit charter schools) the PAC supports other, good agendas, said Wicks. She said she believes in sitting down at the table even with people with whom she disagrees to hear their side.

Beckles pointed out her dismay, in particular, that Chevron had contributed to the California African American PAC, as she has spent her political career fighting back against the company’s influence in Richmond.

“Another contributor is Chevron, a company I’ve been fighting for years in Richmond to clean up pollution and contribute positively to our city,” Beckles said in the press release. “In 2014, Chevron spent over $3 million in a losing battle against me and my colleagues from the Richmond Progressive Alliance in our run for the city council. We of the RPA are proud to have extracted $110 million dollars in new taxes from Chevron to benefit the residents of Richmond.”

Update, 1:45 pm: Wicks sent out a press release questioning the sincerity and timing of Beckles’s denouncement of the corporations that put funds into an IE supporting her. She called her reaction “misleading and hypocritical.”

“Filings show that the California African American PAC listed the contribution on October 25th,” the release read. “Yet, the Beckles campaign chose to make a statement denouncing this corporate money-funded independent expenditure a full week later, only after she had benefited from their spending on her behalf and only after it was called into question by Berkeleyside.”

Wicks reiterated that she has said many times she does not like IEs and is an advocate for campaign finance reform.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...