SACRAMENTO — Buoyed by a surge in support from women and Latinos, Democrat Jerry Brown has taken a lead in the California governor's race, while the race between incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and GOP challenger Carly Fiorina has tightened, according to a new poll.
The Public Policy Institute of California survey released late Wednesday found Brown with an 8-point lead over Whitman, 44 percent to 36 percent, among likely voters.
In the Senate race, the poll found Boxer continues to hold a slight advantage with likely voters over Fiorina, 43 percent to 38 percent, an edge that has diminished since September, when Boxer had a 7-point edge.
Independent voters are split in both races, and there is flagging support for the two measures on the November ballot that are drawing national attention.
Proposition 19, which would legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, has support from just 44 percent of likely voters, with almost half saying they will cast their ballots against it. That represents an 8-point drop in support since a previous PPIC poll in September.
Proposition 23, which would suspend California's landmark greenhouse gas emissions law until the unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent for a year, has support from just 37 percent of likely voters, with 48 percent opposed. It is funded by out-of-state oil companies and is opposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and alternative-energy entrepreneurs.
The gubernatorial and Senate races have been characterized in recent weeks by nonstop attack ads on TV and campaign fliers flooding mailboxes throughout the state.
The campaigning is being driven largely by independent conservative groups spending in support of Fiorina, unions supporting Brown and a record-setting spending spree by Whitman, who has tapped her personal fortune for $142 million and has raised nearly $30 million more from outside contributors.
Whitman finds herself trailing the former two-term governor despite her enormous campaign account and extensive niche targeting of voters by gender, race and geography.
The poll found Brown with 51 percent support among Latinos, despite Whitman's aggressive targeting of them, and that women also favor Brown over Whitman 47 percent to 32 percent. Men and white voters are divided.
Brown campaign spokesman Sterling Clifford said the poll shows Brown's strategy of holding off on campaigning is paying off because many voters are only now tuning in.
"Jerry said from the beginning of this campaign, in the post-Labor Day period when people are paying attention, we'd be a lot more aggressive with Jerry's message of fiscal discipline of state government and growing the green economy," Clifford said. "They like what Jerry has to say."
Unions also have flooded voters' mail boxes with campaign literature critical of Whitman. A spokeswoman for her campaign declined to comment on the poll results.
The survey was taken after two controversies that roiled the governor's race — the revelation that Whitman had an illegal immigrant housekeeper for nine years and a leaked recording of a private conversation in which a Brown campaign aide called Whitman a "whore" for allegedly cutting a pension deal with law enforcement unions to get their endorsement.
In the Senate race, Fiorina said during a campaign stop this week that negative ads against her have not swayed voters. Her spokeswoman, Julie Soderlund, said Tuesday's poll shows Fiorina has the momentum.
"Barbara Boxer has hit her ceiling with voters, and on Nov. 2 she'll meet the floor when they sweep her out of office," Soderlund said.
Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said the senator always expected the race to tighten in the final weeks.
"We've had a sustained pounding for the last two months, much of it by outside groups, and it takes a toll," Kapolczynski said. "The good news is we're still ahead, and we have a strong campaign here for the next 13 days."
The poll was conducted by telephone in English and Spanish from Oct. 10 to 17. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the 1,067 likely voters surveyed.
Associated Press Writers Judy Lin, Samantha Young, Kevin Freking and Robin Hindery also contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.