Many voters wince at the deluge of candidate ads as Election Day nears, but not everyone is turning the channel.
If a billionaire, "I would put in $150 million," says Jeff Gendler, 65, a conservative Los Angeles sales manager who plans to vote for Whitman — somewhat uneasily, because he considers her too moderate. As for her ads, "I have no problem with that," he says.
In a year when some candidates are avoiding the media, Whitman is rushing to be seen in the campaign's final days. On Monday, she was in Indio, near Palm Springs, and in suburban Los Angeles. On Tuesday, she appeared in Long Beach. On Wednesday, she made several stops in Southern California, including San Diego and Riverside.
Her supporters can use smartphones to get "exclusive" photos and video and "keep in touch" with Whitman through Facebook and Twitter. She recently sent a color, book-like mailer to independent voters in Los Angeles, written in the first person. "You get to know who someone really is when you learn their story and discover what has made them who they are," it says.
Weeks ago she eclipsed the record for personal spending set by another billionaire, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spent $109 million in 2009.
Yet she could join other wealthy candidates whose dollars didn't translate into victory. In his failed 1992 presidential race, Ross Perot spent $63.5 million of his own money. In California, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein was re-elected in 1994 after being outspent 2-1 by Republican Michael Huffington, who used $28 million from his own wallet.
In a year of runaway political spending, California could be a lesson in its limitations. Republican Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, loaned her campaign $1 million last week, raising her contributions this year to $6.5 million in her bid to oust Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Whitman can spend as much of her personal fortune as she wishes. But Brown and other candidates who rely on donations must comply with fundraising caps that make it difficult, if not impossible, to keep pace. The maximum donation to a candidate for governor is $25,900 for the primary election and that amount again for the general election.
Whitman says the record-level spending is needed to offset the influence of public employee unions, which have spent some $20 million on Brown's behalf. Her public appearances have been hounded by union activists, who have accused her of trying to buy the election.
"I'm up against some pretty big entrenched interests," Whitman has said. "My job is to spend money to get out this message."
However, her torrent of spending has started talk about expanding those limits for statewide candidates.
"We are starving the candidates to death," says Democratic consultant Garry South, "and shifting the balance of power."