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California governor's race: All about the money?

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How much wealth remains a factor in the race will depend on how candidates play the issue, says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “Wealthy candidates don’t do well if they can’t show competence,” he says.

Whitman's spending has been lambasted by Republican rival and state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, who trails her in the polls. “She thinks she can buy the race through television and radio advertising?” he asked, in the San Jose Mercury News.

But Mr. Poizner himself is the fourth-largest self-contributor in the history of state governors' races, contributing $19.2 million of his Silicon Valley millions to his campaign.

For now, the GOP candidates' spending seems to be benefiting the Democrats. Without any active campaigning, former governor and current state attorney general Jerry Brown is leading Whitman by 4 points, 43 percent to 39 percent, according to a recent Rasmussen survey. That’s a significant change since November, when the two were tied at 41 percent each.

How wealth can help candidates

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