Since Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown won their parties' nominations in June, tens of millions of dollars have been spent trying to break the statistical tie that's gripped the race for months.
Whitman, in particular, has blanketed the state in radio and TV ads touting her corporate experience and depicting Brown as a failed career politician. Brown hasn't spent anything on advertising yet, but his union allies have aired commercials attacking Whitman as the heartless former CEO of the online auction firm eBay.
With the general election season now at its halfway point, 10 weeks from the primary and 10 until the Nov. 2 vote, the campaigns remain stuck where they started — tied in every public opinion poll.
That presents a perplexing challenge for Whitman, who's been running paid advertising in the state for nearly a year — starting with a radio spot introducing her to voters last September.
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Californians may now be tuning out all the ads or even turning a skeptical eye on them after watching for so long, said Clayton Critcher, a social psychologist and assistant professor of marketing at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
"With repetition, there's a positive effect even when people aren't paying close attention to those ads," Critcher said. "If Meg Whitman keeps talking about creating jobs, it strengthens that association that she is the jobs candidate.
"But the negative is once you start hearing these claims for too long without a strong substantive argument to back them up, what may at first be advantageous can change because you're waiting to hear how exactly that is going to happen. Once you don't have to devote too much attention to understanding what's being said, you can focus on what's behind the message."
On top of that, voters typically tune out during the summer and only start paying attention after Labor Day, said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo.
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