Billionaire candidate faces backlash over $141m spend
Published 27/10/2010 | 05:00
THE billionaire former head of eBay who is now running for governor of California is facing a voter backlash over the record amount of money she has spent on her campaign.
Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate, has spent $141m (€115m) of her own fortune, the most ever by a US political candidate.
She has flooded the airwaves with more than 80,000 advertisements in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese, and set up 90 campaign offices in the state.
With a week to go until the Nov 2 mid-term elections, some voters in the world's eighth largest economy appear to have turned on Miss Whitman, precisely because she has spared no expense getting her message to them.
Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, said: "Is there a backlash against the money she's spent? Absolutely, there is. But on the other hand, she wouldn't have had a chance if she hadn't spent the money.
"It's like a romance. It's easy for voters to fall in love with them when they spend money, but it's also easy to fall out of love with them."
The level of Ms Whitman's spending has allowed her Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown (72), who was elected governor twice in the 1970s, to cast himself in the unlikely role of a "little guy" underdog.
This is despite his own four-decade political career and colourful personal life dating a string of well-known women. These include the singer Linda Ronstadt, who gained him the nickname Governor Moonbeam after she divulged a pet name for him.
Paula Bennett, a Sacramento teacher, explaining why she would vote Democrat, said people were "watching their money closely" while Ms Whitman was "splurging". She said: "I like the little guy. He didn't have the money behind him."
Citing Ms Whitman's "obscene wealth", one newspaper advised readers to "hold your nose and vote Brown".
Ms Whitman has defended her spending, saying that she needs to get her message across to an electorate that is not familiar with her, and that her independent wealth frees her from the influence of special interest groups. "Because I have invested my own money I don't owe anyone anything," she said.
She has promised to apply business principles to the troubled finances of the state, where Arnold Schwarzenegger has been governor since 2003, and to cut many thousands of government jobs. A recent poll put her 13 points behind Mr Brown, but she says it is "bunk", claiming the gap is a "point or two".
Larry Gerston, a professor of political science at San Jose State University, said: "The bottom line is money just doesn't do it. We have a history in this state of people who have little or no experience running for high office, spending a lot of money and coming up empty-handed." (© Daily Telegraph, London)