LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Democrat Jerry Brown, criticized for a slow start in his campaign for California governor, has opened a narrow lead over Republican nominee and former eBay chief Meg Whitman, according to a poll released on Sunday.
The new survey by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California also shows incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer -- facing the toughest re-election fight of her career -- widening her margin over Republican challenger Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard.
Brown, a former governor who is currently the state's attorney general, holds a 49 percent to 44 percent lead over Whitman among likely voters, the poll found. Boxer now tops Fiorina among likely voters by a margin of 51 percent to 43 percent.
Whitman, the billionaire former CEO of eBay, has contributed a record-shattering $119 million of her own money to her campaign. While that has allowed her to outspend Brown, it has not meant polling success ahead of the November 2 elections in a state where Democrats account for a majority of registered voters.
Some Democrats have expressed private worries that Brown has not been campaigning hard enough, although he assured doubters that the real race would begin after Labor Day.
Brown leads Whitman 54 percent to 28 percent in a separate survey of likely Latino voters, the poll found. That's a drop for Whitman, who drew 39 percent of Latino support in a July Field poll. Political strategists have estimated that Whitman could win the election if she gets a third of the Latino vote.
Boxer tops Fiorina among likely Latino voters, 66 percent to 26 percent, the latest LA Times/USC poll found.
Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, has taken a hard conservative tack against Boxer, who is seeking her fourth term and is a strong supporter of President Barack Obama's agenda. High unemployment and fears about the economy have left Democrats and incumbents across the country vulnerable in mid-term congressional elections.
But Whitman and Fiorina both appear hampered by negative impressions among California's electorate. Fiorina's unfavorable ratings among likely voters trump her favorable numbers by 5 percentage points, while Whitman's negatives outstrip her positives by 10 points, the most recent poll found.
Likely voters are evenly split in their impressions of both Brown and Boxer, the poll found.
The September 15-22 survey contacted 1,511 respondents, including 838 likely voters. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, meaning results could vary that much either way.
Meanwhile, a majority of California voters has swung in favor of a ballot measure to legalize personal possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by adults, according to a separate Field Poll released on Sunday.
While a July survey found Proposition 19 trailing by 4 points, 49 percent of Californians now say they are inclined to vote "yes" on the proposed marijuana legalization law, with 42 percent leaning toward voting "no." The margin of error on that poll is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Steve Gorman, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Trott)