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Republicans Tom Campbell and Meg Whitman fare well in a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Campbell, a former Silicon Valley congressman who shifted his political ambition this month from governor to U.S. senator, already enjoys a strong lead over GOP rivals Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore, the poll found, and is locked in a near-tie with Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Whitman, former CEO of eBay, has increased her lead over Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner among Republicans with Campbell out of the contest, PPIC's survey found, and trails the sole Democratic candidate, Attorney General Jerry Brown, by only a few points.

PPIC's results generally reflect those of another new statewide poll by the Field Research Corp., but came up with closer results in the theoretical gubernatorial and senatorial matchups.

The PPIC poll, however, went well beyond this year's campaigns, testing popular sentiment on the state's budget crisis. It found that:

• K-12 education is the most popular spending category, with two-thirds of poll respondents saying they'd be willing to pay more taxes to support schools. They were evenly divided on paying more taxes for higher education and social and health services and overwhelmingly opposed to new taxes for prisons.

• More than two-thirds support strict limits on state spending, a pet cause of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and are divided on lowering the two-thirds legislative vote required for passing budgets, a pet cause of Democrats and their allies.

• Oddly, 84 percent of those polled say changes are needed in the state and local tax systems, another cause for Schwarzenegger, but more than half believe the current systems are fair.

• Three-fourths of respondents say public employee pensions are a problem of some dimensions, thus bolstering Schwarzenegger's call for pension reforms, and two-thirds would support lowering pension promises for new public workers.

The full poll can be found here.


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