By William M. Welch, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES - Ending the most expensive statewide campaign in the nation's history, California voters elected Democrat Jerry Brown, a two-term former governor who has been a familiar face since the 1970s.
Brown defeated a free-spending bid by billionaire Republican neophyte Meg Whitman, who spent $142 million from her own fortune on her campaign.
With unemployment and economic discontent running high in the nation's most populous state, California voters turned to experience in selecting Brown, who once earned the nickname "Governor Moonbeam" for his eccentricity, and who ran for president three times, starting in 1976.
Brown, 72, the state attorney general who was first elected governor in 1974, will succeed Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former bodybuilder and movie star who was prevented by term limits from running again.
Whitman, 54, a career corporate executive who made a fortune as chief executive at eBay, the online auction site, was making her first bid for political office after acknowledging she had rarely even voted in the past.
The race was the most expensive ever for a non-presidential campaign in the United States, based mostly on more than $160 million Whitman spent - five times the size of Brown's campaign treasury. She used that money to pay millions to political consultants and saturate the television schedule with ads.
Whitman said she had no regrets about her spending. "I was new to politics," she said Tuesday. "What my investment in this campaign has done is give California voters a choice."
She called Brown a "career politician" and noted he had been on the ballot in California 14 times. Brown, son of former governor Edmund "Pat" Brown, was governor from 1975 to 1983. He unsuccessfully ran for president three times.
Brown voted at a fire station near his home in Oakland and said "signs look favorable" for his election.
Brown said the economic outlook remains harsh in a state where unemployment tops 12%. "I think it's going to be very tough for the next year or two," he said.
For the first time, more than half of the votes cast in the statewide general election were sent by mail rather than at polling places, a Field Poll out Tuesday estimated.
The poll projected that 9.5 million Californians would vote in this election, and 55% would do so by absentee ballot.