Meg Whitman

06:26 AM PST on Friday, January 22, 2010

Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Former eBay chief Meg Whitman has increased her lead in the Republican race for governor while narrowing the gap with Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democrats’ would-be contender, a new survey shows.

Whitman is backed by 45 percent of likely voters in the June GOP primary, up from 22 percent in October. Her rival, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, has 17 percent support, up from 9 percent in October. Both candidates gained from the departure of former Rep. Tom Campbell, who abandoned his gubernatorial candidacy to run for U.S. Senate.

Brown, meanwhile, continues to have a significant lead in a general election matchup against either Whitman or Poizner. His 10-point margin is down about one half from a Field Poll in October.

In particular, the poll found that independent voters’ support for Whitman has increased significantly since October. Her campaign has run a torrent of radio ads since then, while Poizner and Brown have been silent.

“I think Whitman’s outreach and her advertising campaign has been somewhat effective in giving voters out there in the target audiences a more positive view of her,” said poll director Mark DiCamillo.

The June election is still months away. But DiCamillo said Poizner runs the risk of falling so far behind Whitman that he will not be able to catch up.

Poizner spokesman Jarrod Agen likened Whitman’s lead to the high-water mark of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who lost Tuesday’s special election for U.S. Senate.

The Poizner campaign will ramp up its advertising closer to the election when more voters are paying attention, he said.

“We’re not going to change our strategy just because Meg Whitman is spending more money than anyone in the history of the governor’s race,” Agen said.

Whitman spokesman Sarah Pompei said today’s poll is the latest to reflect a pro-Whitman trend.

“On Election Day, Californians will choose Meg’s leadership: creating jobs, cutting spending and improving education,” she said.

Brown, who was governor from 1974 through 1982, has not made his candidacy official. But he has been raising money at a fast clip and is expected to announce his candidacy soon after the June primary filing period opens Feb. 15.

Brown senior adviser Steven Glazer said Brown expects any general election race to be close.

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