Commentary: Can Brown overcome Whitman's wealth in Calif. governors race?

Attorney General Jerry Brown is defying the laws of political physics, at least for now.

Despite unprecedented spending by his Republican foe Meg Whitman, Brown is clinging to a 37-34 percent lead in the race for governor, the latest survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows.

The edge, slight though it is, gives Brown's backers hope that that he will win in November. And he should be victorious, given Democrats' vast registration advantage in California.

Whitman has spent somewhere around $110 million since entering the race but has managed to win support from only a third of the voters. Still, if high-end donors are any barometer, the smart money appears to be siding with Whitman.

Pundits make much of Whitman's bottomless bank account. The billionaire has spent a head-spinning $91 million of her own money on her candidacy, and there's more where that came from.

But it's only part of her cache. She has raised $20 million from corporations and individuals in the past year. That is more than Brown, who has been building a Rolodex of donors for more than four decades, can claim.

Brown and Whitman will release full campaign finance reports on Monday detailing all donations and spending in the first half of 2010. But since the June 8 primary, Whitman has raised almost twice as much as Brown in denominations of $5,000 or more, $2.7 million to Brown's $1.4 million.

Candidates with the most money generally win. They can buy the most television ads, mailers and staff. Brown's aides are testing that truism, insisting he will have more than enough to compete.

Wealthy self-funded candidates don't always fare well in California, as would-be "Sen." Michael Huffington and "Gov." Al Checchi can attest. Most recently, Californians rejected Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s $46 million campaign for an initiative it sponsored in June, against an all but unfunded opposition campaign.

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