$68 Million. Nine Points.

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Crank up some old George Jones, folks:

"Well, the race is on and here comes pride up the backstretch, heartaches are a-going to the inside..."

Tonight's statewide, nonpartisan poll is confirmation that the battle for the Republican gubernatorial nomination is just that -- a battle. And for the newcomer who has now spent more personal cash than anyone in California history, it's an unwelcome battle.

Meg Whitman's lead over Steve Poizner now stands at just nine points, a dramatic downsizing from her 50 point lead in March and the clearest sign yet that Poizner's conservative rhetoric and relentless attacks seem to have worked.

Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

The Public Policy Institute of California reports tonight that Whitman now leads Poizner, 38%-29%.

PPIC found Whitman stronger with voters of more modest means (a 13 point lead with voters in households of less than $80,000 income) while Poizner is only running four points behind her in more well-to-do families (incomes of $80,000 and more). Given Whitman is clearly more often described as the "wealthy" candidate in the race (they're both wealthy, though she apparently more so), that's somewhat surprising.

Also surprising: Whitman is less popular with women than men. Her lead over Poizner among male voters is 12 points; with women, her lead is just seven points.

Undecided GOP primary voters ticked up by six points since PPIC's March survey to now 31% of those surveyed, "a large number at this point" in an election, says PPIC pollster and president Mark Baldassare.

Baldassare says that Whitman has lost support among various subgroups, with the biggest drop in support among those who aren't college grads, where she's lost 29 points since March.

The poll is obviously going to drive the campaign narrative for the next few days, and it will be very interesting to see how the campaigns react.

It's also worth noting that Steve Poizner isn't the only happy guy based on the PPIC poll; so, too, is Jerry Brown.

Tonight's survey finds the former and aspiring future governor has retaken the lead in a hypothetical matchup with Whitman in November -- a five point lead (42%-37%), almost identical to Whitman's five point lead in PPIC's March survey. If the nominee is Poizner, something much more worth considering now than back in March, Brown's lead is even larger (45%-32%).

Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

And here's even more evidence to back up the theory that Poizner's facing a harder path than Whitman should he pull off the upset on June 8: every single subset of voters in this poll lowers its support for the Republican nominee if that nominee is Steve Poizner.

In a matchup with Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman polls better among Democrats (+6), independents (+7), men (+5), women (+6)... and yes, even better among Republicans (+4)... than does Steve Poizner.

In fact, it appears that among those Republicans pondering a Brown v. Poizner contest, some would actually cast a vote for Jerry Brown.

As the headline notes, Meg Whitman has now plucked down $68 million of her own money, with the most recent check being cut yesterday. She's already far surpassed the total spending of both candidates in the 2006 general election campaign for governor. To be sure, Poizner's no pauper, writing personal checks of his own totaling $24 million.

But with just 19 days left until the primary, is there anything else the money can buy? In other words -- what's it going to take to get those 31% undecided voters to get off the fence? And even with screaming headlines predicting her demise, it's important to remember that Meg Whitman is still in the lead. PPIC's survey for this race has a margin of error of five percent, and was conducted over the week ending this past Sunday. What the campaigns surely know -- and may or may not tell reporters -- is whether any nightly 'tracking' polls are showing the gap is narrowing or widening.

For now, though, George Jones is right. The race is on.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • http://ekepas.com/index.php?page_id=271 Emmanuel Kepas

    There are many justifiable concerns with Meg Whitman as Governor of California:
    1) Meg Whitman promoted and supported an unstable management structure at eBay.
    2) Meg Whitman supported and retained managers / supervisors who sexually harassed others, while permitting the firing of their victims and those who stood up for them.
    3) Meg Whitman created and supported eBay’s Porn site.
    And these are ones that I have documented in Chapter 3 “Meg Whitman Revealed” or the MEG Whitman REVEALED LINKS at ekepas.com
    Sincerely, Emmanuel Kepas