- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 21, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO Democrat Jerry Brown has broken open the dead-heat contest for California governor and now leads Republican Meg Whitman by 8 points going into the final two weeks of the campaign, a new poll shows.

Mr. Brown is ahead after amassing robust backing from Latinos and eclipsing Ms. Whitman’s support in the crucial Central Valley, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll finds.

In the first major nonpartisan survey since a series of statewide televised debates and revelations of Ms. Whitman’s hiring and firing of an undocumented Mexican immigrant maid, Mr. Brown has 44 percent of likely voters to 36 percent for Ms. Whitman. Some 16 percent are undecided and other candidates are drawing 4 percent, the poll showed.

That marks a significant shift in the race after months of being virtually tied. The last poll by the organization in September showed Mrs. Whitman leading Mr. Brown 38 percent to 37 percent. The new poll of 2,002 adults was taken Oct. 10-17, a period that included the candidates’ third debate. The overall margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, said the poll might reflect some recent controversies, public events and strategic changes in the gubernatorial campaign.

Brown began campaigning in earnest,” he said, “and there has certainly been a number of opportunities [in debates] for the voters to hear from the two candidates, to compare and contrast.”

In California, where Democrats have a 2.3 million-voter advantage over Republicans, Mr. Baldassare said it appears that “the core voters that have supported Democratic candidates seem to have coalesced around Mr. Brown,” including Latinos, liberals and women.

Among one key Democratic group - Latino voters - Mr. Brown has more than a 2 to 1 lead over Ms. Whitman, while 43 percent of likely voters believe he would be better on the issue of immigration, compared with 37 percent for the former eBay chief executive officer, the poll found.

In a key development, Mr. Brown has drawn ahead of Whitman in the Central Valley, a Latino stronghold, erasing her 15-point lead there in September.

With voters casting ballots by mail and heading to the polls on Nov. 2, the latest poll underscores billionaire Ms. Whitman’s continued difficulties gaining traction in the race despite two years of campaigning and spending $141.5 million of her own money.

The poll also found that only 38 percent of likely Republican voters describe themselves as “satisfied” by their party’s candidate for governor, a 10-point drop since last month.

By contrast, 50 percent of Democrats said they are satisfied with Mr. Brown, who is state attorney general - and 11 percent of GOP voters say they will vote for him, compared with 7 percent of Democrats who say they will vote for Ms. Whitman, the poll showed.

“There have been two Meg Whitmans in this campaign,” said Larry Berman, professor of political science at the University of California at Davis. “In the primary, she was so much more to the right, particularly on immigration. So a lot of Republicans are scratching their heads and wondering: ‘Where did she go?’ “

Mr. Baldassare added that while Ms. Whitman maintains strong support from Republicans, “the group that she needs to see movement among is the independents - and they are closely divided.”

Ms. Whitman’s 8-point lead over Mr. Brown among independent voters in September has been virtually erased. She now holds a 37 percent to 36 percent lead among independents - a key group that represents 1 in 5 California voters.

Among female voters, Mr. Brown has boosted his standing despite controversy after one of his campaign staffer’s used a sexist slur to describe Ms. Whitman in a private conversation that was inadvertently recorded on voice mail.

He leads Ms. Whitman among women voters by 47 percent to 32 percent, the poll found, up from September, when he had 35 percent of their vote. Among male voters and whites, the two candidates remain in a dead heat, the poll showed.

c Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.

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