SACRAMENTO — Democrat Jerry Brown may still be the presumed front-runner in next year's California governor's race, but a new poll indicates he shouldn't take that position for granted.
A survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy In- stitute of California shows Brown would best any of the three Republicans vying for their party's nomination but would not have a 50 percent majority against any of them.
In a matchup against billionaire former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, Brown leads just 43 percent to 37 percent.
Brown, the state's attorney general and a former two-term governor, has yet to officially announce a run for the Democratic nomination but has been furiously fund raising and has chased nearly all challengers from his party's field.
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Some Democrats are growing concerned about his wait-it-out strategy.
On the Republican side, the three candidates have been campaigning for months. Whitman, a billionaire, has poured millions of dollars from her personal fortune into a cadre of professional consultants and a series of radio ads, while state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a multimillionaire, announced this week that he would add another $15 million of his own money to his campaign.
Despite their efforts, the poll finds 44 percent of likely GOP voters still don't have an opinion on the race. The most common response when asked whether they support Whitman, Poizner or former Congressman Tom Campbell was undecided or unengaged.
"Six months before the gubernatorial primary, the four major party candidates expected to be on the ballot are attracting little enthusiasm or attention among Californians likely to vote," pollsters wrote in a summary of the survey.
Among those Republicans who do have an opinion, 32 percent favor Whitman, 12 percent favor Campbell and 8 percent support Poizner.
While more than half the likely Democratic voters surveyed said they support Brown as their candidate, the poll results show Brown has work to do in courting independent voters, who now make up 20 percent of the electorate and are the fastest-growing segment of California voters.
Among independents, 39 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion of him, compared with 34 percent favorable. The poll also finds that nearly seven in 10 likely voters under age 35 have no opinion of the former governor, despite his generally strong name recognition after a lifetime in California politics.
The poll was based on a telephone survey of 2,004 Californians interviewed in English or Spanish from Dec. 1-8. It had a sampling error rate of plus or minus 3 percent for all likely voters, with slightly higher rates for smaller groups.