Rasmussen: Whitman within a point of Brown in CA

Yesterday, Jerry Brown said he didn’t worry about Meg Whitman’s big war chest, telling ABC News that his “frugality” would win the day.  With Whitman saying she might spend as much as $150 million of her own money to keep Brown from getting a third term as Governor 27 years after the end of his second term, he’d better hope frugality goes farther than his experience.  A new Rasmussen poll shows that Whitman has pulled into a statistical dead heat with Brown in California among likely voters:

Meg Whitman’s mega-win in Tuesday’s Republican Primary has thrown her into a virtual tie once again with Democrat Jerry Brown in the race to be the next governor of California.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in California, taken last night, shows Brown with 45% of the vote, while Whitman earns 44% support. Four percent (4%) prefer some other candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided.

Brown led Whitman 45% to 41% late last month but the two have been tied three times in surveys stretching back to September. Brown’s support in the match-ups with Whitman has remained in the narrow range of 41% to 45%. Whitman, in those same surveys, has earned 35% to 43% of the vote.

Those numbers present more of a problem for Brown than for Whitman, who is making her first run at political office. In one sense, Brown is running as an incumbent, having served those two previous terms as Governor and firmly belonging to the political establishment in California.  If he can’t get above 45% in polling against Whitman while she’s a relative unknown, it’s a red flag that he can’t win a head-to-head matchup without a major Whitman gaffe.

The internals thus far are interesting.  The candidates also split the genders, both within the margin of error, with Whitman edging Brown with men and Brown reversing it with women.  Whitman wins majorities of the oldest and youngest voters, but loses by pluralities in between except in a virtual tie with 50-64YOs.  She loses among all income demos except <$20K (47/35) and $60-75K (57/39).  The $40-60K demo has 16% undecided, however, and Whitman only trails by five, 36/41.

Brown needs to win independents, and thus far it’s close, a 45/44 split for Whitman.  He has some challenges on issues, though, which may tilt indies towards Whitman, depending on whether she can take advantage of them.  A 22-point majority of independents, 57/35,  back the use of the military to control the border (Dems split on this 44/44).  A plurality oppose a challenge to Arizona’s immigration-enforcement law, 49/38, while Democrats strongly back one, 54/32.  On the other hand, California independents give Barack Obama a high job approval rating, 61/39, and outgoing Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a decidedly negative one, 40/59.

Assuming neither candidate makes a game-changing gaffe, this could go down to the wire.