LOS ANGELES — Gov. Jerry Brown heads into Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary with a huge lead, while his top two Republican challengers have pulled into a dead heat, according to a poll released Sunday.
Fifty percent of likely voters say they will cast ballots for the Democratic incumbent in the open primary, with 18 percent supporting Republican businessman Neel Kashkari and 13 percent favoring state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly. The split between Kashkari and his fellow Republican is within the poll’s margin of error.
The poll surveyed 1,511 registered voters. It was conducted between May 21-28 by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times.
Kashkari, a former Treasury Department official making his first bid for elected office, had previously trailed Donnelly, a conservative Republican legislator from San Bernardino County.
“Given that Brown has no opposition from the left, the battle in the primary is who will win the Republican vote. Right now, it is too close to call but Kashkari appears to have the momentum and edge with key primary voting groups,” said David Kanevsky, research director for the Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, which conducted the survey along with the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.
Among likely Republican voters, 32 percent support Kashkari, with 21 percent favoring Donnelly and 17 percent backing Brown.
The governor, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth term, has the support of 73 percent of likely Democratic voters, with 6 percent saying they support Donnelly and 3 percent backing Kashkari.
Among likely voters who state no party preference, Brown leads with 54 percent, while Kashkari and Donnelly each have 9 percent.
If the general election were held today, the poll shows Brown winning over Donnelly 54 percent to 26 percent and over Kashkari 55 percent to 27 percent.
“Whichever candidate advances to the general election, the race should tighten once the GOP nominee solidifies their base,” Kanevsky said. “The challenger needs everyone who voted against Brown in 2010. That won’t be enough to win, but you need to walk before you can run.”
Meanwhile, The Sacramento Bee reported that independent spending in California’s statewide and legislative races has reached its highest levels in nearly a decade leading up to Tuesday’s primary.
As of midday Saturday, outside spending on those races on Tuesday’s ballot had reached nearly $23 million, including contributions from unions, dentists, oil companies and many other groups.
Six legislative races were standouts, including the Sacramento-area race to succeed Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. Each race attracted more than $1 million in outside spending.
Analysts say one reason for the spending surge is that numerous legislative districts have no incumbent on the ballot, which makes races more competitive. There are nine contested seats open in the Senate and nearly two dozen in the Assembly.