Buffeted by advertising, besieged by phone calls, buried in campaign mailers, California voters on Tuesday will close out an election for the history books, its massive outlay part of a Republican effort to ride a national wave of enthusiasm and a Democratic attempt to turn out voters less motivated this year than in the landmark presidential election of 2008.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by candidates and those on both sides of ballot measures to draw in or repulse voters, and the efforts continued at a frantic pace Saturday. Even as the airwaves were flooded anew and mailboxes bulged with often negative appeals, the candidates scoured the state for votes at rallies from Sacramento to San Diego.
“What we’re looking at now is a big bad recession out there, and that means government’s got to play an important role,” Democrat Jerry Brown said in Stockton, at the second of five rallies Saturday for his campaign for governor. “There’s roads to build. There’s bridges to fix. There’s high-speed rail to get going in the [Central] Valley. … We gotta put people back to work.”
His GOP opponent Meg Whitman reprised the words of her campaign ads at a rally in Vista.
“Something has been missing in California politics for a long time,” she said. “I’m going to tell it to you straight. I’m going to treat you like grown-ups. … You know what? Our problems are tough. But so am I.”
All told, state figures show that the governor’s race is the most expensive such contest in California history. Counting the primary and general election campaigns, Whitman and Brown had spent more than $188 million by mid-October, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission. Whitman alone had spent almost $163 million before the expensive final weeks, easily eclipsing the previous two-candidate record of $130 million, in current dollars, for the entire 2002 gubernatorial election.
Of her total, more than $141 million was donated by Whitman herself, a record for any race in the nation.
Spending by outside groups on the race for governor had risen to more than $23 million by mid-October, the commission found, most of that from organized labor groups that helped keep Brown’s candidacy afloat in the summer while he husbanded money for the fall spurt.
“One thing that most California voters have figured out some time ago is that over the years Meg Whitman has made a lot of money, and Jerry Brown has made a lot of friends,” said commission chairman Dan Schnur.
Most of the money went to campaign ads. Among Saturday’s entries: a television commercial in which President Obama asked voters to send three-term incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer back to Washington.
A new national study of campaign ads showed the extent of the advertising onslaught. From Sept. 1 — before Brown began airing ads — to Oct. 20, Californians saw almost 79,000 governor’s race spots, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, which relied on data collected by Kantar Media/CMAG, a longtime tracker of political ads. That made it easily the most advertised governor’s race in the country. More than 18,000 additional ads were aired in California by the Senate candidates or their allies, the study found.
Apart from the prodigious sums and the state’s continued Democratic tilt, the campaigns here drew on national themes, with Democrats insisting that their experience was valuable and Republicans insisting that change was in the wind. Brown opened a three-day, 13-stop caravan around the state with a rally at his Oakland headquarters.
“We gotta put Californians to work and wherever I find a way to do that, with federal money, with bond money, with local money, we’ll do that…" said Brown, a two-term governor decades ago. “And I’m going to be banging on the door of President Obama and Congress because they have to help too.”
In Merced, he launched a withering critique of Whitman’s effort to jump from the business world — she was chief of the Internet auction site EBay — into the top race in California, with no intervening electoral experience.
“Some people say the less you know the better … and the best kind of candidate is a candidate who never votes,” Brown said, before he mocked Whitman’s signature approach. “ ‘I want to run California like a business,’ and in a business the first thing you do is look at the resume: Have you done this job before? What are your skills? What do you know? Who recommends you?”
The crowd cheered. “I rest my case,” Brown said. “By the way, if I went over to EBay and said ‘I’d like to be the president and CEO of EBay, I’ve never pushed that button, I’ve never gone onto the site, I’ve never been in the building, I don’t know what the hell an auction is, I don’t know what the Internet is but I’d like to be the boss,’ I wouldn’t get very far, would I?”
Whitman campaigned in areas where Republicans must do well to win — Orange and San Diego counties — before heading to Sacramento. At the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, she dismissed both Brown and the public polls that have her trailing him.
“You know I’m a proven job creator,” Whitman said. “That’s what I’ve done my entire career. Jerry Brown has been part of the war on jobs in Sacramento for 40 years, and it’s going to end on Tuesday.”
Whitman’s chances rest on a strong Republican turnout and on procuring the support of independent voters and women. On Saturday her pitch combined a call to arms for both.
“We have the chance to create real change in Sacramento. … We’re going to take back California for our children and our grandchildren,” she said. “You know what else we have a chance to do? Put the first woman governor in California in office.”
Later, at the Vista warehouse of the car-alarm company founded by Rep. Darrell Issa, Whitman said Brown would raise taxes and would be blocked by organized labor from reforming the state’s schools.
“I am going to take on the bosses of the California Teachers Assn.,” she said to enthusiastic applause. “Of course, my opponent has no prayer of doing this.”
Public polls in the Senate race have given Boxer a narrow lead, but both candidates scrambled Saturday for advantage. In Seal Beach, where she spoke to several hundred senior citizens at Leisure World, Republican nominee Carly Fiorina contrasted her background with Boxer’s.
“I’ve been managing billions of dollars for almost 30 years,” said Fiorina, who presided over Hewlett-Packard for more than five years, until she was fired in 2005. “By the time I left Hewlett-Packard, it was an $88-billion company. And I will guarantee you this — you show me a billion dollars that no one is accountable for, no one scrutinizes, no one is responsible for making sure every dollar is spent wisely and well, and I will show you hundreds of millions of dollars, of waste, of mistakes, of abuse, and, yes, of fraud as well. And that is precisely what we have going on in Washington, D.C.”
Fiorina’s pledges to rein in spending, repeal President Obama’s healthcare legislation and direct unused federal stimulus money toward paying down the federal debt drew cheers and applause. And as she has done throughout the campaign, Fiorina jabbed at Boxer’s three terms in the Senate and 10 years in the House.
“Barbara Boxer has behaved for 28 years as if she is accountable to no one,” she said. “With your help and with your prayers … I will look very much forward to being held accountable to the voters of California.”
Boxer’s assistance from Obama, who won California by a record margin in 2008 and remains popular here despite slumping favorability ratings elsewhere, underscored the threat that Fiorina represents to the incumbent’s fourth term. Earlier this week Obama was touting Boxer in radio ads; the Saturday television offering, using footage filmed in California last spring, was meant to put more pressure on the state’s voters to side with the Democrat.
“You have in Barbara Boxer a subcompact senator, passionate about fighting for jobs, clean energy reform and green jobs that can’t be outsourced,” Obama said in the ad.
Boxer, meanwhile, took up a theme that has pervaded the campaigns since the San Francisco Giants reached the World Series — equating her victory with the team’s. In her case, she did so by emphasizing Fiorina’s support for Prop. 23, which would delay the state’s global warming law. The campaign is largely financed by Texas oil companies.
“We’re on track to beat the Texas Rangers,” Boxer shouted, “and we’re on track to beat the big Texas polluters who back my opponent.”
Times staff writers Jack Dolan, Seema Mehta and Maeve Reston and special correspondent Anthony York contributed to this report.