Ngoc Nguyen, New American Media
SACRAMENTO - In the final week before the midterm elections, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown now has a commanding 10-point lead over GOP contender Meg Whitman, 49 percent to 39 percent, according to the latest Field Poll.
The new poll, released Thursday in collaboration with New America Media, found that Brown is edging ahead among women, Latinos, independents and voters in all-important Los Angeles County.
A year ago, about 50 percent of voters said they favored Brown, but that number had been trending downward in recent months, reaching its lowest point (41 percent) this past September. A year ago, Whitman began with about 29 percent of voter support, pulling even with her Democratic opponent (41 percent) by September. Since then, however, a number of key factors have swung the race back toward Brown.
“There have been three debates, a ton of ads, controversy surrounding Whitman’s housekeeper, comments by Brown’s campaign staff calling Whitman a whore—all those things settled in," said Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll’s director. "Voters have appraised the candidates…and it’s not benefiting Whitman at all. The majority of voters now have a negative impression of [her].”
Despite pouring $160 million into her campaign and blitzing Californians with ads, Whitman hasn’t been able to sway a majority of voters. In fact, in the most recent poll, the proportion of voters with a negative image of her (51 percent) reached its highest level since she began her run for governor. About 47 percent of voters had a positive impression of Brown, slightly higher than in October 2009.
DiCamillo said the turning point of the race was the revelation that Whitman had employed an undocumented housekeeper for nine years, then fired her under circumstances that many Latinos criticized as harsh and unfeeling. The housekeeper controversy not only shed light on Whitman’s character, DiCamillo said, it also thrust illegal immigration—an issue neither Whitman nor Brown had wanted to talk about before— into the spotlight. Brown reached out to Latinos, played up his support of a path to citizenship for the undocumented, and pushed Whitman to clarify her fuzzy stance on Arizona’s SB 1070 anti-immigrant law, DiCamillo said.
“Because it became an issue, he leveraged it to his advantage," the pollster said. "It’s an issue that has clearly cut in his favor."
Since January, support for Brown has edged up among nearly all ethnic groups except Vietnamese-American voters, the poll found.
Brown has an overwhelming lead among African Americans (80 percent to 9 percent) and a 2 to 1 lead among Latinos (57 percent to 27 percent). The Democratic candidate is also favored by the majority of Chinese Americans (55 percent to 27 percent) and Korean Americans (55 percent to 34 percent).
Thirty-seven percent of Vietnamese-American voters favor Whitman, while slightly more than a quarter said they would vote for Brown. In January, Brown had an 18-point lead among this ethnic group.
In explaining Whitman's gain among Vietnamese, DiCamillo noted that early on, voters registered with one party may entertain the idea of voting for the other party’s candidate, only to return to their political base by election time.
“Vietnamese Americans are more likely to be registered as Republicans and they are coming home to the Republican standard-bearer,” DiCamillo said. “Latinos…who tend to lean more Democratic have …now settled in pretty comfortably for Brown.”
Binh Nguyen, who lives in Santa Clara County, confirmed this pattern. “I plan to vote for Whitman, because she’s a Republican and I’m a Republican,” he said. “I believe the Democrats spend way too much money. Mr. Brown will spend a lot of money. That’s why I will vote for her.”
But Thap Lam, a retired counselor who lives in Rosemead, said he supports Brown because Whitman gives him the impression that “she only cares about wealthy people.”
DiCamillo said the biggest failure of Whitman’s campaign was its inability to craft an appealing image despite her expenditure of a staggering amount of money: “Voters really want to feel comfortable with that candidate. For whatever reason, Whitman wasn’t able to get voters to warm up to her.”
The poll, conducted October 14-26, interviewed about 1,500 registered voters by telephone in six languages—English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.
Andrew Lam contributed additional reporting