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Democrats hold slight edge in California races: poll

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - California Democratic candidates for the Senate and governor hold a narrow edge over their Republican opponents as voters worry about the economy with four months to go until the November elections, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found on Tuesday.

The poll of 600 registered California voters found that 78 percent believe the state is on the wrong track, with most saying the biggest problem facing California is the weak economy.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer holds a slight edge over Republican Carly Fiorina -- 45 percent to 41 percent -- in Boxer's bid for a fourth term in the November 2 congressional elections.

Former California Governor Jerry Brown leads Republican candidate Meg Whitman by 45 percent to 39 percent in their race to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor.

Ipsos poll analyst Clifford Young said the fact that Democrats are leading is not unusual since they have better name recognition but as the campaign progresses "we should see some sort of dimunition of that advantage."

"What we're finding is a very close race," Young said.

Both Whitman and Fiorina, former corporate CEOs, have well-financed campaigns in their bids for statewide political office.

The country's most populous state is suffering from a jobless rate of above 12 percent, higher than the national average, and a budget gap of around $20 billion.

Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who has struggled to improve the state's economy and budget picture, had only a 27 percent approval rating in the poll. His 6 1/2-year tenure has been marked by battles over spending with the Democratic-controlled legislature as the economy deteriorated.

The poll found Republicans more energized looking ahead to elections in which the party's candidates are poised to make gains against Democratic majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

It said 64 percent of Republican voters are following news about the campaigns, compared to 57 percent of Democrats.


Californians' concerns about their state economy mirrors similar worries in other states.

"There's a high level of discontentment," said poll analyst Young. "They're mad. However, in California is not clear who they're going to be mad at. It will be incumbent upon the different candidates to frame that to their advantage."

The survey also found a wide disparity between the parties about the state's climate change and environmental regulations.

It said 68 percent of Democrats believe green policies will drive investment in green technology and jobs, while 62 percent of Republicans think they will create higher energy costs.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, also found that 48 percent of voters would support legalizing marijuana, compared to 50 percent opposed.

U.S. voters will elect 435 members of the House of Representatives and fill 36 of the 100 seats in the Senate in the November elections, and the Democrats are expected to lose support nationally in part because of the slow economic recovery.

(Editing by Alistair Bell)