SAN FRANCISCO – With less than eight weeks to go, the race for California governor is shaping up to be a contest between who is disliked the least.
A recent poll has incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis clinging to a 7-point lead -- proof, some say, of his rampant unpopularity, given that Republican challenger Bill Simon has run an uneven campaign hurt by bad publicity and rookie mistakes.
"This is a contest between a guy almost no one likes, Gray Davis, and the guy on the other side, who is, you gotta say, Mr. Inept, the only man that Gray Davis could beat," said Democratic analyst and Fox News contributor Susan Estrich.
The numbers show that more than half of likely voters don't like either candidate very much, and at a time when people are usually making up their minds, the number of undecideds has actually risen from 16 to 22 percent since July.
"In fact, 84 percent of voters say they now have an opinion of Simon. Gov. Davis has always had 90 percent plus name recognition. So it's not through a lack of information or an awareness of the candidates that they're undecided," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.
The indecisiveness, analysts say, is because voters aren't happy with their options.
Gov. Davis is widely blamed for the state's energy crisis of last year and a $24 billion budget deficit. And, he is routinely accused of selling political favors to big donors.
Simon, a wealthy political novice who botched the release of his tax returns, was embarrassed by a $78 million fraud judgment against his family's business. A judge has thrown out that jury decision, which Simon was never directly named in, but his troubles aren't over. He recently flip-flopped on his support of gay rights after conservative Republicans complained.
That misstep led veteran GOP strategist and former Reagan official Lyn Nofziger to blast his fellow Republican as "too dumb to win."
"When you see him make mistake after mistake, it kind of gets to you," Nofziger said.
A majority of those surveyed say their vote will be motivated mainly by a desire to see the other man lose. That could mean one of the lowest turnouts at the polls in years, and no matter who wins, an unpopular governor from the start.
Fox News' Claudia Cowan contributed to this report.