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Former eBay honcho Meg Whitman continues to lead the two other Republican candidates for governor next year and trails presumptive Democratic nominee Jerry Brown by only a few points, a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California has found.

Whitman's 32 percent support level among Republican voters is a big lead over either former Rep. Tom Campbell at 12 percent and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner at 8 percent, but the highest proportion, 44 percent, are the undecided Republicans.

While Brown, a former two-term governor who is now state attorney general, leads all three Republicans among all voters in the survey, his support remains well below 50 percent. In a theoretical matchup with Whitman, Brown leads 43 percent to 37 percent. His margins against Campbell and Poizner are considerably wider.

While all that is interesting to political junkies, however, most Californians still haven't focused on who they may want to succeed Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger next year.

"Voters have more immediate concerns than who is going to be the next governor," PPIC's president, Mark Baldassare, said in a statement analyzing the poll results. "Despite all the advertising in this early stage of the campaign, Republican primary voters are more likely to say they are undecided than to favor one of the three GOP candidates. At the same time, the Democrats' likely candidate falls short of majority support when matched up against the Republican contenders."

Whitman has spent heavily from her personal fortune on consulting advice and advertising, but has refused to debate the other two Republicans and almost never talks to California political reporters. Poizner, also a wealthy former Silicon Valley executive, has just committed $15 million more to his campaign while Campbell has scant personal or political resources.

The PPIC poll covered a wide variety of issues, finding that Californians remain very concerned about the state's recession-wracked economy (61 percent say it's the top issue facing the state), that President Barack Obama still enjoys high approval ratings (61 percent), that barely half (52 percent) support Obama's health care plans and that Schwarzenegger and the Legislature continue to have record-low approval ratings.

The full poll, including early takes on 2010 ballot measures, is accessible here.


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