The newest poll results in the governor’s race sets up a possibility of campaign shenanigans ripped from the pages of California political history.

The poll from the UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies gives Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom a healthy lead at 30% over two Republicans almost dead even. Businessman John Cox recorded 18% in the poll and Assemblyman Travis Allen was at 16%. Much attention to the poll results will fall on the standing of former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who dropped down to 9%.

These numbers can easily change with Villaraigosa’s campaign enjoying the benefit of a million dollar-plus advertising campaign from a supportive charter school group, along with Villaraigosa’s own campaign spending.

Meanwhile, the Republicans don’t seem to have big money to reach voters through major television buys.

Newsom and his campaign hope one of the Republicans captures second place in the primary. Given California’s voter registration and demographics, a Democrat would be heavily favored in a partisan contest come November. However, if Villaraigosa rallies thanks to his financial support, an all-Democratic contest in November will be a harder fought affair for Newsom.

Because the two leading Republican candidates are neck and neck as of now they could undercut each other and another Democrat could make the run-off along with Newsom.

Friends of Newsom might see an advantage in helping a Republican capture the second spot.

Dirty politics you say? But not unknown in California.

When former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan ran for governor in 2002, incumbent governor Gray Davis was concerned that Riordan would be a formidable foe. Davis and his team thought that the governor would have an easier time defeating businessman Bill Simon. So the Davis campaign played in the then partisan Republican Party primary running ads designed to hurt Riordan’s standing with Republican voters. The plan worked as Riordan’s early poll numbers collapsed and Simon captured the Republican primary only to lose to Davis in the General Election.

More recently in a state senate race, Democratic candidate Steve Glazer’s campaign was confronted with mailers that appeared to be from a group supporting a Republican candidate who had actually dropped out of the race and endorsed Glazer. The goal of the expenditure was to prevent Glazer from landing in the top two against either of two other Democratic candidates who were supported by interests more closely tied to the Democratic Party. In this instance the ploy failed.

Will history repeat? Keep your eyes open for any Independent Expenditure with questionable motives that suddenly finds one of the Republican gubernatorial contenders an appealing candidate. Beware of mischief.