- Associated Press - Thursday, May 20, 2010

SACRAMENTO | Support for former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman in the Republican race for California governor has fallen by 23 percentage points over the past two months as her rival, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, has gone on the attack, according to a poll released Wednesday.

Mrs. Whitman now leads Mr. Poizner 38 percent to 29 percent among Republicans who said they were likely to vote in the June 8 primary, the survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found.

Mrs. Whitman had 61 percent support in the same poll taken in March compared to 11 percent for Mr. Poizner.

Since then, Mr. Poizner has begun spending millions of dollars on television and radio advertising, much of it directed at Mrs. Whitman and criticizing her position on illegal immigration, her ties to Goldman Sachs and her poor voting record.

Both candidates have funneled millions into the race. Mrs. Whitman, a billionaire, has donated $68 million to her campaign from her personal fortune. Mr. Poizner, a multimillionaire technology entrepreneur, has given $24.4 million to his campaign.

Despite the heavy spending in the governor’s race and increased attention on the U.S. Senate primary, about a third of likely GOP voters remain undecided.

The two front-runners in the Republican contest to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in the fall remain in a statistical dead heat, the survey found.

Support for former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and former congressman Tom Campbell virtually was unchanged since March, with Mrs. Fiorina leading 25 percent to 23 percent, within the poll’s sampling error for GOP primary voters.

Many voters are turning to the right, helping state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a favorite of the “tea party,” gain eight percentage points since March. He still trails Mrs. Fiorina and Mr. Campbell with 16 percent support.

“It’s a real signal of how unsettled the electorate is, that you’ve got three in 10 saying that they’re undecided when so much money and resources and media attention has occurred in the last few months, starting much earlier than usual,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute.

The candidates who have benefited most from the negative back and forth? Democrats.

Attorney General Jerry Brown does not face a serious challenge in his party’s gubernatorial primary, and Mrs. Boxer also is unchallenged for her seat. Both lead their would-be challengers in hypothetical November matchups.

More than half of adults surveyed rank jobs and the economy as their No. 1 issue, an angst that Mrs. Whitman has tried to tap with her top three issues: job creation, cutting state spending and fixing education.

Mr. Poizner’s attacks on immigration, abortion, her ties to embattled Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs and her abysmal voting record have pushed Mrs. Whitman off her message.

Californians appear split on a November ballot initiative seeking to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, with 49 percent of likely voters supporting it and 48 percent opposed.

The institute surveyed 2,300 California adults by telephone from May 9 to 16.

The sampling error rate was plus or minus two percentage points for all adults, plus or minus three percentage points for likely voters and plus or minus five percentage points for likely GOP primary voters.

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