The winner of the November election will inherit a state burdened by double-digit unemployment, a budget tens of billions of dollars in the red and a profoundly unpopular, polarized legislature.
The gubernatorial race in California, the nations most populous state, may also serve as a political bellwether in a year when political analysts say the still-lagging U.S. economy has left Democrats and incumbents vulnerable.
Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former film star and political moderate, cannot run for re-election again after serving two terms, the limit for Californias governor.
The Field Poll, which surveyed a random sample of likely voters between June 22 and July 5, found that about four in 10 held positive impressions of each candidate, with four in 10 others holding negative views.
Pollsters Marvin Field and Mark DiCamillo said that represented a downward trend for Brown, who served two terms as California governor from 1975 to 1983 and who last year was regarded favorably by most voters.
Whitman has apparently improved her standing with voters, after posting a favorable rating of only 17 percent in March of 2009.
Californias next governor will almost certainly inherit a budget mess this November. The state began the fiscal year last week with no spending plan or hope of one soon.
State leaders have failed to approve a budget on time in 19 of the past 25 years and Schwarzenegger said that without a fiscal plan, the state, with few exceptions, would cut the pay of state employees to the minimum required by federal law, or 7.25 an hour.
Recession, the housing slump, battered financial markets and a state jobless rate topping 12 percent have cut hard into state revenue, and few see a credible budget in the works.
Editing by Eric Beech source