SACRAMENTO — The first public opinion poll since California’s June 3 primary shows Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown maintaining a 20-point lead over his general election challenger, Republican Neel Kashkari.
The Field Poll released Wednesday found 52 percent support for Brown among likely voters, while 32 percent support the former U.S. Treasury official who is making his first run for public office. The rest were undecided.
Brown, 76, is seeking an unprecedented fourth term as governor after serving from 1975-1983 and is considered the strong favorite in November. Although he has not held any public campaign events, the poll found he is regarded favorably by more than half the likely voters surveyed. He also has more than $21 million in his re-election account.
Equally important, according to the poll, is Brown’s strong name recognition after a lifetime in politics. He has served as attorney general, secretary of state and as mayor of Oakland. His father, Pat Brown, also served two terms as governor.
That family history and long career in the public eye mean that far more voters have an opinion of him.
While 85 percent of respondents could offer either a positive or negative appraisal of Brown, only about 44 percent could do so for Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker who oversaw the Treasury’s bank bailout during the height of the recession.
Kashkari, 41, overcame Republican state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly during the primary. Their race was a study in contrasts, pitting tea party favorite Donnelly against socially moderate Kashkari.
Kashkari made headway introducing himself to voters during that campaign. But he will need millions of dollars to raise his profile throughout the state and mount a credible challenge to Brown, who will have the added campaign muscle of organized labor.
In the only TV ad of the primary campaign, Kashkari took aim at the $68 billion high-speed rail project Brown supports. Other issues that could play into the November race include efforts to revamp the $11.1 billion water bond on the ballot, which Brown wants to cut to $6 billion, and Brown’s controversial realignment program, which sends most lower-level criminals to county jails instead of state prisons.
Kashkari campaign manager Pat Melton said the GOP candidate’s favorability rating has risen dramatically among voters who were targeted in June.
“Once all voters examine the governor’s dismal record overseeing the nation’s worst schools, jobs climate, and poverty, we’re confident they’ll support Neel’s positive, inclusive message and his plans to rebuild the middle class,” Melton said in an emailed response.
A spokesman for Brown’s re-election campaign, Dan Newman, said voters support the governor’s “wise stewardship” and prudent approach to spending that was epitomized in the $108 billion general fund budget he signed last week. That budget creates a rainy day fund for the state and starts paying down $74 billion in unfunded teacher retirement liabilities.
“Priority one is going to be to continue to govern, but that also happens to be a viable way for voters to get a sense of how he would govern in another term,” Newman said.
Brown will consider offers to debate Kashkari, including one from news media outlets in Sacramento that Kashkari accepted last week, he said.
Field interviewed 982 likely voters from June 5-22. The poll has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points for likely voters.