Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman has opened up a sizable lead over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, according to a Field Poll.
The poll found 45 percent of likely GOP voters support Whitman, while just 17 percent back Poizner. It’s the first survey to be released since former congressman Tom Campbell dropped out of the race to run for U.S. Senate.
Still, 38 percent of likely GOP voters said they remain undecided.
Both Republicans also appear to be gaining ground on their presumed Democratic rival and the general election front-runner, Attorney General Jerry Brown, who has yet to formally announce his candidacy.
Whitman, who has said she is willing to spend as much as $100 million on her gubernatorial bid, has already spent more than $20 million on radio ads and campaign consultants. At the same time, her lead has grown to 28 percentage points from a 13-point edge over Poizner last October, when Campbell was still in the race.
“A lot of the changes I would assume are the result of her campaign ads she’s been running,” pollster Mark DiCamillo said. “She’s been canvassing the state with radio ads. You can see the impact they appear to be having.”
Whitman’s popularity is growing with both Republicans and independent voters, who comprise 20 percent of the California electorate and will be key in the general election.
Poizner spokesman Jarrod Agen said a large lead in early polls often doesn’t amount to much on Election Day. He drew comparisons to a failed Democratic campaign for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts earlier this week, in which the Republican candidate came from behind in the final weeks to pull off an upset victory.
“Our strategy has always been to spend the money when voters are paying the most attention,” he said. “We are not going to change it just because Meg Whitman is spending more money than any human who is not running for president”
A spokeswoman for Whitman, Sarah Pompei, said her campaign also is not focused on polls at this point in the race.
Meanwhile, the survey found Brown’s lead over Whitman has shrunk to 10 percentage points, down from a 21-point lead he held in a Field Poll survey last October. He holds a 17-point lead over Poizner, down from 25 points in October.
Brown, a well-known political figure who served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983, has been raising money at a furious pace but has remained on the sidelines in the governor’s race so far. That has made some Democrats uneasy about the kind of campaign he intends to run.
DiCamillo said the poll shows they have reason to worry.
“He was hoping that he could just sit by while there’s a competitive Republican primary and mud is slung back and forth between the candidates,” he said. “If it’s not that competitive a race, that kind of throws that out the window.”
But Steven Glazer, a political adviser to Brown, said Brown is not worried.
“We’re very comfortable with our position. We’re not trying to win the election in January; we’re trying to win the election in November,” he said. “We have a very experienced team mobilized to engage in a rigorous campaign in the future.”
Brown has until March 12 to declare he is running for governor.
The poll had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 7.1 percentage points for likely GOP voters and a margin of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all likely voters.
Respondents were surveyed by telephone from Jan. 5 to 17 — before Campbell dropped out of the governor’s race. DiCamillo said respondents were given two scenarios, one including Campbell in the race and one without him.
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