Jerry Brown was elected governor of California late Tuesday for the third time over 36 years, an unprecedented victory that capped the nation’s most expensive gubernatorial race in which his billionaire rival Meg Whitman outspent him better than 6-to-1.
Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer, the former journalist and Congresswoman who was one of five women elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992 in the “Year of the Woman,” won a fourth term. Again, Boxer’s critics said she was politically vulnerable and, again, Boxer proved them wrong as she battled her Republican rival, former HP executive Carly Fiorina.
Brown led Whitman, 51 percent to 44 percent, while Boxer led Fiorina by four percentage points, 49m to 45.
California voters clearly bucked a national trend: They favored experienced Democratic pols for statewide office and were turning back pro-business attempts to weaken the state’s greenhouse gas law.
Despite more than $161 million in spending by Whitman’s campaign – including $141 million from her own pocket – could not lure voters to her side. Her negatives remained high, fueled by her spotty voting record and her firing of an illegal immigrant housekeeper, and the former eBay chief appeared scripted and inexperienced – exactly how Brown wanted to define her.
Brown, 72, who was first elected governor in 1974 at the age of 36, won as much by the miscues of his opponent as by any grand strategy of his own campaign.
But in the end, it was more than enough: He saved his money until the end, deftly tapped the resources of organized labor, belittled her political chops and nearly matched her in TV ads during the critical, final three weeks of the campaign.
The price tag for the governor’s race, including the primary election, hovered around $280 million: Direct campaign spending reached nearly $250 million, while spending by grou
ps not affiliated with Brown or Whitman, the so-called independent expenditure committees, added another $28.4 million, the Fair Political Practices Commission said.
The anti-incumbency rage that animated voters across the country proved anemic in the races for California’s two top political offices.
Not only did Brown, whose career in government spans four decades, won with relative ease, but Boxer also claimed victory after being neck-and-neck with Whitman for much of the evening.
Compounding the confusion on election night was the collapse of the state’s computers, which slowed the tally.
Whitman stumbled badly during the campaign when she acknowledged that she hadn’t voted for 28 years, then was battered again by the disclosure that she had employed an illegal immigrant housekeeper and fired her after nine years – just when Whitman was cranking up her campaign for governor.
With their performances in three statewide debates largely inconclusive, the coup de gras for Whitman’s campaign occurred in Long Beach at a women’s conference. There, Whitman – unlike Brown – declined to remover her negative campaign ads from the air and drew boos from many of the 14,000 women in the audience. The image of a top woman candidate being booed at a women’s conference resonated in the governor’s race, spurred on the Brown campaign, which hastily crafted a TV ad targeting the incident.