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Meg Whitman's $139 million could turn Calif. governor's vote

In an attempt to appeal to California's non-English speaking population, GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is airing ads in Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese.

In many ways, Whitman would seem the ideal fit for this year's anti-incumbent environment, except that California tried electing an independent-minded Republican outsider the last time it chose a new governor - and Arnold Schwarzenegger's approval rating is in the low 20s.

Whitman promises to bring sound business principles to government, and she hammers Brown as a relic of its failure. She wants to eliminate a capital gains tax that she says drives investors from the state, cut 33,000 state workers and put new ones into 401(k)s rather than pensions.

it can be difficult to envision how she could get all that done in a capital as partisan and sclerotic as Sacramento. This year, the legislature was 100 days late in passing a budget full of gimmicks.

Although Whitman's message has been disciplined - focusing on jobs, elementary and high school education, and cutting government spending - it has not been as compelling as Republicans had hoped it would be. She and Brown have traded leads in polls, and the latest surveys show that he is pulling ahead slightly.

But the race remains fluid, and each campaign has gotten caught up in a distractoversy: Whitman's over hiring and then firing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper, and Brown's over a recording of someone in his campaign referring to Whitman as a "whore."

Brown is receiving help from his union allies, who have spent nearly $14 million on his behalf. The Service Employees International Union recently announced a $5 million ad campaign targeting Latinos. But some Democrats are nervous that they are seeing nothing on their side that matches Whitman's operation.

Brown has conserved his own cash for a big advertising push at the end of the campaign. "He will be arguably competitive on the air for the last four weeks, but I do not believe there is anything approaching a get-out-the-vote operation on the ground that is going to be up to the task," said longtime Democratic operative Garry South, who was the top strategist for former governor Gray Davis.

From outside appearances, South said, Whitman has built "the most extensive absentee-ballot program and get-out-the-vote program that California has ever seen in any race whatsoever."

even some Republicans worry that the shock and awe of Whitman's television ad campaign has simply become too much for California voters.

"She may have been a little overexposed in the summer," said Kenneth Khachigian, a longtime Republican strategist who is advising Carly Fiorina, another former Silicon Valley executive, in her bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. "She used the same template over and over again, and I think people started to tune out."

"I knew it would be like this, but it is all-consuming. It is more consuming than eBay, which is sort of hard to imagine, actually. It is 24-by-7, and it takes everything you have to do this well."

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