Support for GOP candidate for governor Neel Kashkari has grown in the past two months, putting him within striking distance of his more conservative Republican rival, Tim Donnelly, a new poll finds.
But the Public Policy Institute of California survey shows neither Republican comes anywhere close to threatening Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, whose support is still almost twice their backing combined.
Brown leads the primary race with support from 48 percent of likely voters, while 15 percent support Donnelly, 10 percent support Kashkari and 27 percent remain undecided, according to the poll.
The margin of error for the sample of 901 likely primary voters surveyed May 8 to 15 is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. In April, PPIC had found Brown at 47 percent, Donnelly at 10 percent and Kashkari at 2 percent, with 36 percent undecided.
Donnelly and Kashkari are vying to finish in the top two with Brown in the June 3 election and thus win the chance to go one-on-one with him in November. The new poll was conducted after the Republicans launched advertising and campaign blitzes to coincide with the distribution of vote-by-mail ballots starting May 5. Kashkari, an asset manager from Orange County and former U.S. Treasury Department official, has sunk $2 million of his own money into his campaign this month.
"In spite of a campaign where millions of dollars have been poured in to tear down the (Republican) front-runner, I'm still standing strong and in the top two, which is the definition of victory in the primary," said Donnelly, a state assemblyman and tea party favorite from San Bernardino County, on Wednesday.
But Kashkari spokeswoman Jessica Ng said the poll "confirms that Neel's platform of jobs and education is resonating with voters."
"Although the poll represents only a small portion of our direct voter outreach, it already reflects significant growth in Neel's support, and it underscores the fact that Neel is the right candidate with the right message to win on election night," she said, noting that Kashkari has enough money to keep reaching out to still-undecided voters, while Donnelly doesn't.
Among Republicans, Donnelly is backed by 30 percent of likely voters and Kashkari by 21 percent, while 34 percent remain undecided, down from 58 percent in April, the poll found.
Brown's approval rating stands at 54 percent, down from his record high 60 percent in January.
The governor's strong numbers might be buoyed in part by voters' agreement with his fiscal principles. The poll found 57 percent of California likely voters would rather use the projected state budget surplus to pay down debt and build up the reserve, compared with 39 percent who would prefer to restore some funding for social service programs cut in recent years. Also, 74 percent of likely voters and 76 percent of all adults approve of changes to the state's "rainy-day fund" to which Brown and leaders on both sides of the Legislature's aisle agreed earlier this month.
Dan Newman, a consultant to Brown's re-election campaign, said, "It's encouraging to see that voters clearly appreciate the governor's leadership in getting California back on firm fiscal footing."
The new PPIC survey also found generally good news for Democrats.
Even after political scandals led to the suspension of three Democratic state senators, 36 percent of likely voters approve of how the Democratic-controlled Legislature is handling its job -- about the same as in January (33 percent) and higher than May 2013's 29 percent rating. Asked about their own Assembly members and senators, 43 percent of likely voters approve of their job performance, about the same as January (45 percent) and up from 38 percent in May 2013.
Asked which party governs in a more honest and ethical way, 46 percent of likely voters picked Democrats and 28 percent chose Republicans. Asked which party is more concerned with the needs of people like themselves, 51 percent of likely voters chose Democrats and 32 percent chose Republicans.
Asked which party is more extreme in its positions, 33 percent said Democrats and 54 percent said Republicans. Asked which party is more influenced by lobbyists and special interests, 27 percent chose Democrats, 42 percent chose Republicans and 25 percent said this describes both parties.