LOS ANGELES Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman recovered a wide lead over her rival for the Republican nomination in California's governor race after the pair stepped up their costly television campaigns accusing each other of being too liberal, a poll showed on Sunday.
With less than two weeks before the June 8 primary, Whitman led state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner by 53 percent to 29 percent, according to a poll organized by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California.
But the intense rivalry between the well-heeled Silicon Valley veterans has helped boost the prospects of the Democrats' nominee, Jerry Brown.
The 72-year-old former governor, who has stuck to the sidelines savoring the war of attrition, led Whitman by 44 percent to 38 percent. The last L.A. Times/USC survey, in April, gave Whitman a three-point edge over Brown, and a 40-point lead over Poizner.
But other polls earlier in May saw Poizner narrow the gap considerably as he launched a new television offensive depicting Whitman as soft on illegal immigration and beholden to the maligned banking sector.
Whitman replied with ads that, among other things, showed that Poizner supported former Vice President Al Gore. She also broadcast endorsements from former presidential contender Mitt Romney and former California Governor Pete Wilson.
Whitman, a billionaire, has spent about $80 million and Poizner about $25 million, funded mostly by their private bank accounts.
Moderate Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- from whom both Whitman and Poizner have distanced themselves -- is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. His 6-1/2-year tenure has been marked by budget battles with the Democratic-controlled legislature as the economy deteriorated.
In the Republican race for the U.S. Senate seat held by vulnerable three-term incumbent Barbara Boxer, former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina enjoyed a 15-point lead over former U.S. Representative Tom Campbell. In March, Campbell had a four-point lead over Fiorina.
But Campbell, a moderate, appeared more electable in a state where Democrats easily outnumber Republicans. The latest survey gave him a seven-point lead over Boxer, while Fiorina trailed the liberal Democrat by six points.
The poll surveyed 1,506 registered voters from May 19 to 26, with a 2.6-point margin for error.
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)