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Why Whitman and Brown are deadlocked in California governor's race

The latest poll of the California governor's race shows Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown tied at 41 percent. Many voters remain undecided, so upcoming debates will be crucial.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 23, 2010

California Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brown speaks during his primary election night party in Los Angeles in this June 8 file photo.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/file


Los Angeles

The latest poll of the California gubernatorial race offers an intriguing portrait of a campaign in which neither candidate seems able to shake the other and both appear to have succeeded only in turning off voters through negative ads.

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With six weeks to go before the Nov. 2 vote and five days before their first of five debates, Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown and Republican millionaire and former eBay executive Meg Whitman are tied at 41 percent each among likely voters, according to the nonpartisan Field Poll released Wednesday.

With the debates coming, this is the beginning of a new and decisive phase in the election, and the poll holds several key surprises, says poll director Mark DiCamillo.

• Ms. Whitman has a narrow lead in Los Angeles County, which accounts for nearly 25 percent of the statewide vote. Usually, the county is key to Democratic wins – the typical path to victory for Democrats is to win liberal San Francisco and Los Angeles and then do what they can in the rest of the state, Mr. DiCamillo says. Mr. Brown has a 40 percentage point lead in San Francisco, meanwhile.

• Whitman is tied with Brown among women – a group that usually leans heavily Democratic. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph incorrectly called Meg Whitman the first female gubernatorial nominee in California.]

• Whitman is behind Brown among Latinos – another group that is traditionally heavily Democratic – by only 3 percentage points.

“Whitman is undercutting Brown by taking away his advantage among constituencies that are usually very clearly Democratic supporters,” says DiCamillo.

Whitman's money could be a factor. Her $119 million campaign, which recently surpassed New York Mayor Richard Bloomberg's campaign as the most expensive in US history – has spent heavily in Southern California and in the state’s Spanish-speaking media.

Despite this, Brown is holding his own because of his name recognition and California's Democratic bent, say analysts.

The Democratic advantage in party registration is 44.3 to 30.9 percent, with 20.2 percent declining to state. Moreover, Brown has the strongest name brand in California politics “and – aside from the Kennedys – the strongest name brand in any state,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.