BY JACK CHANG
The Sacramento Bee
Attorney General Jerry Brown has built a commanding lead over San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in the race for the Democratic nomination for governor, according to the latest Field Poll results released today.
On the Republican side, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman remains locked in a virtual tie with former Rep. Tom Campbell, but half of the voters are undecided. Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner continues to place a distant third in his bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, the nonpartisan poll found.
While rhetoric over voting records, past support for Democrats and other non-policy matters has heated up among the Republican candidates some eight months before the June 8 primary, the Field Poll found that GOP primary voters hadn’t changed their minds much since they were last surveyed about the race in February and March.
“My take-away is voters aren’t really interested in those kinds of squabbles,” said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. “Either that or they’re not paying much attention to this yet.”
While the GOP race remains static, Brown has improved upon his March showing among Democratic primary voters, although he hasn’t formally announced his candidacy.
In the March poll, Brown was the preference of 26 percent of Democratic primary voters when matched against Newsom and five other potential candidates.
Now, the former governor and Oakland mayor has support from 47 percent while Newsom wins 27 percent support in a poll question offering only those two Democratic choices.
The poll, however, found Newsom beating Brown by nine percentage points among respondents age 18 to 39 while Brown beat Newsom by a whopping 45 percentage points among respondents aged 65 or older.
Brown may have left the Governor’s Office in 1983 with only a 43 percent approval rating, but the 71-year-old is one of the state’s best-known politicians and has won favorable press in his current job and in Oakland, said Claremont McKenna College politics professor Jack Pitney.
“Jerry has advantages that are impossible for anyone else to replicate,” Pitney said. “He’s run for governor, he’s run for president and he currently holds statewide office. It’s difficult to beat that kind of name ID.”
His history as governor, heard secondhand, helped persuade 47-year-old Yuba City resident Tammy Massengale, a Democrat, to support Brown, whom she called honest and trustworthy.
“I heard (Brown) didn’t have a state car and that he drove an old beat-up car of the day,” said Massengale, who is a Caltrans employee. “He was a normal person and wasn’t above anybody else.”
The good news for the GOP candidates is that nearly half of state Republican primary voters have no opinion about them, Pitney said.
That’ll allow Whitman and Poizner, both wealthy, largely self-financed candidates, to fill in the blanks in voters’ minds with a barrage of political advertising, Pitney said. Campbell, who has collected a fraction of the money of his GOP rivals, will likely fall in the polls once the race heats up, Pitney added.
“The race is not set in stone,” he said. “It’s not even set in Jell-O.”
Roseville resident Jackie Watkins, a Republican, said his vote remains up for grabs � as long as no one currently in the Legislature wants it.
“I would not vote for anyone who’s been there now,” the 63-year-old retired trucking manager said. “They have shown they really don’t care what the California people vote on and it’s all about them.”
The Field Poll found Brown easily beating any of the three GOP candidates among all registered voters, with Newsom winning by a smaller margin.
The poll surveyed 1,005 registered California voters from Sept. 18 to Oct. 5, including 496 Democratic primary voters and 373 Republican primary voters.
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