At the other end of the ideological scale, Whitman's standing among conservatives ebbed slightly, from 77% to 70%. She continued to outdistance Brown among those voters, although his support grew slightly from 16% to 21%.
Overall, by 52% to 41%, voters said that Whitman had not handled the housekeeper controversy well. The same key voter groups — women, independents and Latinos — offered the harshest verdicts. When asked how Brown had handled the matter, voters were more divided, with 37% saying he did well and 43% saying he did not. Among independent voters, a plurality approved of Brown's actions.
The damage to Whitman's candidacy over the last month could be seen in a host of poll findings. The percentage of voters with an unfavorable view of her rose slightly from 47% to 52%, making her the only major candidate with a majority negative impression. Her favorable rating stayed at 37%.
Her standing on a number of questions that plumbed voter views of the candidates — their plans, energy, decisiveness and understanding of voters — slipped narrowly.
The most striking finding involved truthfulness, and Whitman appeared to be suffering from the housekeeper situation as well as from a barrage of attacks by Brown about her honesty and news reports challenging the accuracy of her ads.
Asked which of the candidates was better at telling the truth, 44% chose Brown while just 24% chose Whitman. Twenty-seven percent cast Brown as "much" better at the truth than Whitman, while only 12% described Whitman that way. Again the judgments were most pronounced among women, Latinos and independents.
While the governor's race was changing dramatically, the contest for U.S. Senate was moving incrementally. Since the September poll, Fiorina has mounted an aggressive stand of advertising that has blunted Boxer's efforts to break away.
"People are judging these races in two very different fashions," said Republican pollster Linda DiVall of American Viewpoint. "It's become a referendum on Whitman and a referendum on Boxer."
Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster, agreed: "These two races are moving with their own dynamics," he said.
Half of voters had an unfavorable view of Boxer, a three-term senator; 44% had a favorable view of her. Compared with September, more voters had some impression of Fiorina, but her rating was also negative, at 43% unfavorable and 36% favorable. Brown was the only one of the four candidates for top offices who had a net positive rating, with 48% favorable to 44% unfavorable — an uptick from last month.
Joyce Reed of Indio said she was voting for Fiorina because "she's running against someone I've wanted to get out of there for so long."
"It's an attitude, and her beliefs," said Reed, a Republican, when asked what she disliked about Boxer. "What she believes in are not my beliefs."
Still, Boxer benefitted from gains over the past month among liberals, moderates and independents.
Fiorina lost ground among those groups, but rose slightly among Latinos and men. Her gains among Latinos were minimal considering Boxer's 60% to 28% lead among those voters.
As election day grew closer, the candidates and their campaigns were wrestling over wobbling voters and vying for the shrinking pool of undecided voters. Among them was Robert Trabucco of San Diego, who expects his decision to come down to the wire.
He was hoping, he said, to read a bit more about the candidates. He did not consider the torrent of advertising now blaring into California's living rooms to be at all helpful.
"I change the channel," he said.