With just one week to go until election day, Governor Gray Davis is running ahead of challenger Bill Simon by nine percentage points among likely voters, many of whom would prefer to be voting for someone else, according to the latest Los Angeles Times poll

The survey found California's likely voters concerned that the gleam is off the Golden State -- more than half (52%) said that the state is seriously off on the wrong track, compared to 37% who said things are going in the right direction these days. Over the last year, Californians have watched helplessly as recession and high energy costs drained once-full government coffers, leaving the state deeply in the red.

Countdown to November 5th

The Governor's Race

Gray Davis leads Bill Simon by 45% to 36% among likely voters. A Times poll last month found the vote nearly identical to what it is today, despite last minute flurries of advertising on the part of the campaigns.

The closest contender after the top two -- Green Party candidate Peter Camejo -- is trailing at 5%. Despite what seemed like a perfect opportunity for a third party candidate to catch voter imagination in a race in which most ballots will be cast for the lesser of two evils, Camejo's support rises to double digits only in the northern portion of the state -- 11% in the Bay Area and 10% in the portion outside the Central Valley. It is tough for third-party candidates to raise the sort of money required to run a campaign in this state. Davis has raised $67 million in campaign funds over the past four years, and millionaire businessman Bill Simon has loaned his campaign $10.25 million from his own pocket.

Other candidates tested in the race for governor are Reinhold Gulke of the American Independent Party, who garnered 1% of the vote, Iris Adam, the Natural Law candidate (1%), and Gary David Copeland (1%), the Libertarian candidate. Three percent said they'd vote for someone else, and 8% remain undecided.

Californians are largely pessimistic about the way things are going in their state and the race for governor -- between an incumbent under whose watch California's economy stumbled and a challenger whose campaign has been staggering under mismanagement, misstatements and a an inability to attract donors -- has done little or nothing to lighten voter negativity. Over half (56%) of likely voters who plan to vote for one of the two major candidates said that they chose him because he is "best of a bad lot."

Simon voters in particular are holding their noses as they vote -- nearly two-thirds of his voters said they chose him because he is better than the alternative, while 29% said they will be casting a vote for him and his policies. In another situation, the fact that Davis voters split 49% to 48% over whether they were happy to have him as a candidate or not would seem quite dismal, but in this context the finding that nearly half his voters are satisfied with their choice makes him appear almost popular.

Negative campaigning on both sides has had some effect on voter outlook. The percentage of likely voters who said that neither candidate has the honesty and integrity to serve as governor rose from 16% last month to 24% today. In September, six in 10 said Davis was running the more negative campaign, a figure which has dropped to 46% today. The proportion who said Simon is running the more negative campaign doubled from 13% to 25% and those who said both equally from 12% to 19%.

Likely Democrats polled 74% for Davis and 10% for Simon. Republican likelies supported Simon over Davis by a very similar margin of 75% to 12%. Just under half of those who decline to state a party (independents) would vote for Davis, 19% for Simon, and 9% for Camejo.

Davis led Simon in most areas of the state, the exceptions being the portion of southern California outside LA (44% Simon to 41% Davis) and in the Central Valley (43% to 36%.) Enthusiasm for Davis was highest in the LA and northern California (including the Bay Area but outside the Central Valley) where he led Simon by more than 20 percentage points in each case.

Latino enthusiasm has diminished somewhat for Davis, the candidate seven out of 10 voted to elect in 1998. It is still high, however, with Latino likely voters in this survey choosing Davis over Simon by more than two to one. Fifty-seven percent of Latino likely voters would mark a ballot for Davis if the election were held today, while 25% would pick Simon and only 4% -- smaller than the statewide vote -- would choose Camejo. Twelve percent of likely Latinos remain undecided.

The share of Latino likely voter support for Simon is similar to the level of support given past Republican candidates by that group. For example, Times Poll exit polls show that 23% of Latinos voted for Dan Lungren over Davis in the 1998 Governor's election, and 24% of California Latinos voted for George W. Bush in the presidential election two years ago.

The Candidates

Davis voters, asked to name one or two reasons why they chose their candidate, most often volunteered he is "the best choice" (24%), they like the job he is doing (16%), they would vote for any Democrat (17%), they agree with his stand on the issues (14%), they don't like Simon (10%) and they approve of his handling of education (11%.)

In general, opinion of Governor Davis has become slightly more negative over the last month. In September, the Times Poll found likelies narrowly divided in their impressions of Davis -- 48% had a favorable opinion and 51% did not. In this survey, Davis' numbers have shifted slightly lower -- 42% now say they have a favorable opinion of him, while 56% do not. His job rating is also slightly lower, at 46% approval to 51% disapproval. Likely voters asked the same question by a Times Poll survey last month split 48% to 48%. In this survey, three in ten express strong disapproval of the governor's handling of his job.

A great deal of Simon's appeal to his voters evidently comes from the fact that he is not Governor Davis (38%), as well as because he is the best choice for the job (18%), that he can bring needed change to the state (12%), or that he is a Republican (10%.)

Most likely voters have a negative impression of Simon. Just under one third said they feel favorably about the GOP candidate, compared to nearly three out of five who do not. There has been little change in this negative impression over the last month, when the Times Poll measured it at 35% to 51%.