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California Elections: Polls Find Close Races For Governor, Senate

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California finds the candidates for governor are virtually tied, while the incumbent Democrat has a slight lead in the U.S. Senate contest, with just over a month remaining before the Nov. 2 election.

The survey, released Wednesday, finds Republican Meg Whitman has 38 percent support among likely voters in the California governor's race, compared with 37 percent for her rival, Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown. About 18 percent of voters are undecided, while more than half the respondents said they were not satisfied with either choice.

In the Senate race, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer has 42 percent support among likely voters, while the Republican candidate, former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Carly Fiorina, has 35 percent support. Nearly one in five voters is undecided in the race.

Other public opinion surveys released over the past week also have found both contests to be tight.

The Public Policy Institute also found Californians are leaning toward supporting a measure that would legalize marijuana for recreational use and allow its sale to be taxed. PPIC found 52 percent of respondents support Proposition 19 and 41 percent oppose it. It's the first time the initiative has been found to pass the crucial 50 percent support threshold.

Institute President Mark Baldassare said voters are not moved by any of the candidates for major office this year, and their malaise is reflected in the high number of undecided voters.

"Neither the candidates nor the ballot measures have captured the imagination of the California electorate," Baldassare said. "There's consensus about the problems, and voters are looking for a game-changer. They don't see one on this ballot."

The survey has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points for the 1,004 likely voters who were surveyed from Sept. 19 to Sept. 26, before the first debate of the governor's race.

The poll found Brown, 72, who was governor from 1975-83, with only a slight lead over billionaire former eBay chief executive Whitman among Hispanic voters, a typically Democratic-leaning portion of the electorate that Whitman has been targeting.

On Wednesday, Whitman's former housekeeper appeared with well-known Democratic Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred in a news conference during which Allred claimed Whitman knew for several years the housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan, was in the U.S. and working for Whitman illegally. Whitman denied the allegation. She said she fired the worker in June 2009 after the worker confessed she had illegally used her sister's documents when she applied for the job through a placement agency.

The accusation, which was not supported by any documents, came just days before Brown and Whitman were scheduled to meet Saturday in Fresno for their second debate, which will be conducted in Spanish and air statewide on Spanish-language television. The questions will be in Spanish, and a translator will repeat them to Brown and Whitman in English and then relay their responses to viewers.

Hispanics are having a growing influence in California politics but are projected to comprise just 15 percent of voters in the Nov. 2 general election.

Both races feature female Republican candidates who are former CEOs from Silicon Valley running against Democrats who have been in the public eye for decades.

The Public Policy Institute found likely voters were split evenly when asked whether experience in government or experience running a business was most important. Nearly two in three Democrats valued experience in elected office, while a similar number of Republicans valued business experience.

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Public Policy Institute of California: http://www.ppic.org

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