PASADENA, Calif. — It's hard to turn off Meg Whitman.
The most expensive campaign for governor in U.S. history — about $162 million and counting — is inundating California voters with an unprecedented array of TV and radio ads, glossy magazines, smartphone messages, Facebook videos, postcards and phone calls that will test how far a Republican dollar can go in a state Democrats often dominate.
A typical TV viewer in Los Angeles will see 23 of her commercials this week alone, many roughing up Democrat Jerry Brown, according to Democrats tracking her ad buys. The story of the Silicon Valley billionaire is being told in four languages — English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese. There are book-like mailers, billboards and text messages reaching voters and supporters, all while she's jetting to appearances across the state.
It costs about $3 million for a candidate to blanket California with TV ads for one week, but from October 10-17 her campaign spent $4.6 million, underscoring the urgency of the effort and pushing her message from Spanish-speaking households near Los Angeles to rural areas on the Oregon border.
Still, it might not be enough. Brown, after being outspent 6-1 through mid-October, opened up a slight edge in recent polls. Even Whitman appeared to concede last week that many voters in the economically battered state — unemployment is 12.4 percent — don't know her.
"People need to see me. They see me on TV. They see me on the Internet. But they haven't seen me in real life," Whitman said in Los Angeles. "I want people to know I care."
At an appearance Tuesday in Long Beach, Brown said he would take down his negative TV ads if Whitman agreed to do the same. His ads, laced with unflattering photographs of his rival, pound Whitman for her spotty voting record and employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper. (Whitman says the maid used a fraudulently obtained Social Security card and California driver's license; she fired her after learning of her illegal status.)
Responding to Brown's challenge, Whitman said she would continue to run ads on Brown's record as governor from 1975 to 1983. "I want to make sure that people really understand what's going on here," she said.
In TV ads, Whitman warns that Brown's election will mean the status quo in Sacramento, something voters can't afford. "Just a dishonest politician, trying to hide his record of failure," one ad says. "Job killer, Jerry Brown."
The record spending has been going on for months and stands out strikingly in a state facing a budget crisis that will demand austerity for years to come. Outgoing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has stayed quiet in the campaign, will leave behind a multibillion-dollar deficit for his successor.
A first-time candidate, Whitman, eBay's former chief executive, has invested $142 million of her Internet fortune so far, most of it for ads to introduce her to the state's 17 million voters and help overcome a 13-point Democratic edge in registration. She's raised about $30 million from other sources.
The Silicon Valley billionaire has already spent more money than Al Gore used for his 2000 presidential campaign. In the first two weeks of October, her operation burned through an average of $1.4 million a day.
Whitman spokesman Tucker Bounds, who would not discuss details of the campaign's ad spending, argued that labor unions and Brown have together funded an equal level of ads in Southern California. "It's like Meg is dueling with multiple gunmen," Bounds said.
TV is viewed as the only practical way for candidates to become known across the sprawling state. The reach of Whitman's ads can be seen in figures compiled by Democrats: Most of the $4.6 million she spent Oct. 11-17 went to broadcast television reaching every corner of the state, but she also pumped $275,000 into Spanish-language ads in 10 cities, including Fresno, Bakersfield and Santa Barbara, and sent $560,000 to cable TV stations.