Photo by Ted Soqui
Jerry Brown

Jerry Brown has an eight-point lead over Meg Whitman in a new PPIC survey out tonight. Among likely voters, Brown is beating Whitman 44-36.

In the September PPIC poll, the candidates were in a virtual tie, with Whitman holding a 38-37 margin.

Two big stories have dominated the race since then: Whitman's housekeeper mess and Brown's “whore” controversy.

The poll offers some of the first hard evidence that Nicky Diaz affected the race, while it also suggests that the whore story did not have an impact.

The “whore” controversy was supposed to hurt Brown among women. But since the last PPIC survey, women voters have swung 17 points in Brown's favor. In September, he was trailing Whitman 37-35 among women. Now he's up 47-32.

There was 22-point swing in Brown's direction among Latino voters, possibly in reaction to the housekeeper story. Last month, Brown was leading Whitman 32-25 with Latinos, and now the lead is 51-22.

While we're assessing the impact of the housekeeper story, there was also a blip in support for Chelene Nightingale, the American Independent Party candidate whose tough-on-immigration stance won her the backing of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Tom Tancredo. Nightingale was at 1 percent in September. Now she's at 2 percent. That's less than the margin of error, but it's fair to assume that whatever bump she got came out of Whitman's total.

“What seems to have happened is that Jerry Brown has solidified his hold on the Democratic base,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California. “Whitman's support has not changed.”

Meanwhile, the Whitman camp has been circulating a Republican Governors Association poll, which shows the race tied at 46-46. If you apply Nate Silver's six-point rule for in-house polls, that works out to a six-point lead for Brown, which is in the ballpark.

None of this is to say that Democrats can't find a way to lose this thing. Garry South, the consultant who helped elect Gray Davis, said recently that Whitman's turnout operation is so superior that Brown will need a 7-8 point lead on Election Day or “we're in serious trouble.”

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