For months, Jerry Brown has said he's been in no hurry to declare his candidacy for California governor, even as his Republican rivals poured millions of dollars into their gubernatorial campaigns.
That low-key strategy is now sparking concern from some state Democrats, who fear Brown will suffer the same fate as Democrat Martha Coakley, who suffered a crushing upset defeat Tuesday in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race.
A new Field Poll released today does little to assuage such Democratic worries: It shows the attorney general's lead over Republican candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner shrinking dramatically in just three months.
In a matchup with Whitman, Brown wins the support of 46 percent of likely general election voters while 36 percent back the Republican. In October, Brown's lead over Whitman was more than double the current margin.
Brown's lead over Poizner, the state's insurance commissioner, also shrank, from 25 to 17 percentage points.
Brown's diminishing leads are yet more evidence that he and other Democrats will face strong head winds this election year as voters take out their frustrations about the economy and other issues, said UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser.
And while Democrats enjoyed a 13.5 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans in California last year, such edges haven't guaranteed them gubernatorial victory in past elections, Kousser said.
"Even before what we learned from Massachusetts, this race was shaping up to be a close general election," he said. "Even though California has been trending (Democratic), we're a state where Republicans won six of the last eight gubernatorial races."
Thursday, Brown acknowledged that Democrats may face an uphill battle in this year's elections.
"It's a serious wake-up call," he said on the San Francisco radio station KGO. "Everybody ought to be looking at it, even Republicans. People are irritated, they're scared, and I think everybody in the political class needs to take notice."
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