- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Democratic incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown has a strong lead over his Republican challenger, Neel Kashkari, in a new statewide poll released Friday, but 1 in 4 likely voters could not even identify Kashkari, demonstrating the challenge he faces in selling himself to voters this November.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll found that Brown leads Kashkari 57 percent to 36 percent among likely voters.

Brown, 76, is well known to many Californians after spending a lifetime in politics. He has amassed nearly $23 million for his re-election bid from a wide array of donors, but spent very little so far.

Kashkari, 41, is a first-time candidate and former U.S. Treasury official who helped lead the federal bank bailout. After spending $4.4 million in the primary to defeat third-place finisher Tim Donnelly, Kashkari reported $200,000 in his account at the end of June and has collected more than $745,000 since then.

That is far from the millions needed to mount a statewide television ad campaign in costly California, so Kashkari has used other tactics to generate attention.

This summer, he posed as a homeless man in Fresno to highlight what he says is the uneven economic recovery, and earlier this week he delivered 6,500 paper bags to Brown’s office to protest legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags statewide, saying that the governor and Legislature are focusing on the wrong priorities.

Dan Schnur, director of the poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said Kashkari’s challenge is to attract attention from the news media and donors.

“Perhaps the most important and effective thing that Brown has done in this campaign to date is locking down the Republican donor base,” Schnur said. “The governor’s successfully convinced most of the state’s business donors, who’ve historically been the leading source of funding for Republican candidates, that while he might not do everything they want, that he’s good enough.”

Since taking office in 2011, Brown has portrayed himself as a moderate check on the more liberal impulses of the Democratically controlled state Legislature. He reigned in a $27 billion budget deficit and voters in November will consider whether to strengthen the state’s rainy day fund to put aside more money in lean years.

Brown also enjoys a 58 percent approval rating, his highest in the poll since he took office in 2011 and up 10 points from 2012, when just 48 percent toll pollsters they approved of how the governor was handling his job.

Still, Schnur said the poll also found that Californians are not that optimistic about the direction of the state, which would normally present an opportunity for a Republican candidate. But he said the GOP brand is too damaged in California for an unknown candidate to break through.

Friday’s poll also shows strong support among likely voters for Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion proposal to invest in California’s aging water system.

The poll randomly surveyed 1,109 likely voters by telephone statewide from Sept. 2-8. It has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

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