By David Siders
dsiders@sacbee.com
Published: Wednesday, Jul. 7, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 7, 2010 – 6:35 am

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s recent ads attacking Jerry Brown appear to have resonated with likely voters, as the Democratic nominee’s popularity is sliding, according to a new Field Poll.

The poll shows Brown leading Whitman 44 percent to 43 percent, a statistically insignificant difference.

Whitman trailed Brown by 21 percentage points in an October Field Poll, before closing on him in January and overtaking him in March. But Whitman’s three-point advantage that month was erased in the final stages of a bruising GOP primary.

But 40 percent of voters now rate Brown negatively, nearly equal to the 42 percent with positive views. Brown’s favorability rating plummeted from last year, when twice as many voters viewed him positively as did negatively.

“For Whitman, the success here is that the campaign seems to be working, in the sense that now as many voters view Brown negatively as do positively,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

Brown’s rating is only slightly better than Whitman’s: 42 percent of likely voters rated her negatively and 40 percent positively, according to the poll.

While Brown faced no serious opposition in the Democratic primary, Whitman faced a deluge of advertising by GOP rival Steve Poizner.

DiCamillo said, “That served Brown’s purposes quite well. It brought Whitman’s image into negative territory and pretty much did the bidding of the Democrats.”

Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford disputed that Brown’s declining favorability rating is significant. He said Whitman has spent millions of dollars attacking Brown and that “for her trouble she’s barely moved the numbers.”

Whitman spokesman Tucker Bounds said Whitman has been attacked by Brown and his allies, too, and that it is positive for Whitman “to be in a dead heat in a state controlled by Democrats.”

As is typical, partisanship is a significant factor in the election, with Democrats largely supporting Brown and Republicans largely supporting Whitman, according to the poll. Among voters unaffiliated with either of the two big parties – including independent voters, a key group composing about a fifth of the electorate – Whitman led Brown 42 percent to 39 percent, according to the poll.

Brown is supported by 50 percent of likely Latino voters, an 11-point advantage over Whitman, according to the poll. Still, Whitman’s 39 percent is greater than the third of Latino voters experts believe she must win over if she is to defeat Brown.

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