SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The two leading Republican candidates vying to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown are locked in a close contest for second place just weeks before the June 3 primary, while the incumbent enjoys a comfortable lead among likely voters, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The Public Policy Institute of California poll found that state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a conservative from San Bernardino County, has about 15 percent support among likely primary voters while former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari has 10 percent. Brown is favored by 48 percent of those surveyed.
Both Republicans have seen their support grow since the institute's previous poll in April _ Donnelly by 6 percentage points and Kashkari by 8 points. The top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will move on to the general election in November.
Brown's popularity has left the GOP challengers struggling to raise money and gain traction with voters. The 76-year-old Democrat has amassed nearly $21 million in a campaign account and spent little.
Yet both leading GOP candidates saw good news in the survey results. They are essentially tied statistically, given the poll's sampling error margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points among likely primary voters.
“This poll confirms that Neel's platform of jobs and education is resonating with voters,” Kashkari campaign spokeswoman Jessica Ng said, referring to the candidate's rise from 2 percent in the April survey.
She said the poll, conducted from May 8-15, captured only a few days of the campaign's voter outreach, which includes mailers targeting Republican voters and television ads. Ng said Kashkari is the only GOP candidate with the money to communicate his message to voters.
Kashkari, a former aerospace engineer and Goldman Sachs investment banker, has given his campaign $2 million and raised about $700,000 since mid-March, when he had $900,000 on hand.
Donnelly, a tea party favorite, has struggled to raise money. He reported $150,000 in campaign debts in March and has raised about $165,000 since then, according to reports filed with the secretary of state's office.
He said he was pleased at his improvement since April, when the policy institute found 9 percent of likely voters supported him. He said it shows that campaigning on ideas and principles “can actually work and can hold up in the face of millions of dollars being spent in an extremely divisive campaign that's basically attempting to tear down rather than build up or uniting anyone.”
Donnelly said Kashkari's strategy has been “just completely to attack the front-runner.”
A new mailer from Kashkari's campaign attacks Donnelly's record and appeals to conservative primary voters by trying to tie him to Brown. But many in the Republican establishment feel it is Donnelly who has been divisive in the campaign. He has sought to link Kashkari, who is Indian-American, to Islamic fundamentalist law because of a seminar Kashkari attended while serving in the administration of President George W. Bush.
The poll found that a quarter of those likely to cast primary ballots remain undecided. That includes 34 percent of Republicans, giving both GOP candidates an opportunity to capture more voters.
The poll has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points for the 901 likely primary voters surveyed and plus or minus 4.6 percentage points for the 1,038 likely voters surveyed.
It also found:
_ About a third of likely voters say they approve of the way the California Legislature is handling its job, slightly higher than the rating a year ago. That's despite three Democratic state senators being charged or convicted in separate criminal cases. Each has been suspended from his job but continues to receive a salary.
_ Nearly 60 percent of likely voters favor paying down the state's debt and building a reserve fund rather than using higher state revenues to restore social service funding, which 39 percent favor. Six in 10 Democrats prefer restoring the funding, while 76 percent of Republicans prefer paying down debt.
_ Californians view climate change more seriously than other Americans, with 61 percent of those surveyed saying it will pose a threat to them or their way of life during their lifetime, compared with 36 percent nationwide in a March survey by Gallup.
Associated Press writer Tom Verdin contributed to this report.