Calif governor hopeful Meg Whitman courts Chinese vote

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Republican Meg Whitman has launched a Chinese-language advertising blitz on television, believed to be the first of its kind in California, reflecting the closeness of the governor’s race and her prodigious financial resources.

Whitman’s new TV ads in Mandarin and Cantonese follow a major push by the billionaire political novice and former eBay chief executive to court Latino voters through Spanish-language TV, radio, billboards and other media.

Campaign spokesman Darrell Ng said the new spots, declaring that “entrepreneurship, high-tech jobs and education are the keys to our future,” began running this week on multiple Chinese-language TV stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“We believe this election is very close, and we’ll fight for every vote,” Ng told Reuters on Tuesday. He declined to say how much the campaign spent for the ads.

Whitman’s campaign said it has also sent direct-mail materials in Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to about 126,000 homes in the state.

Compared with Latinos, a typically Democratic constituency in California, ethnic Chinese and other Asian-Americans are seen as more politically independent, though they heavily favored Democrat Barack Obama in his 2008 race for president.

Chinese-Americans also represent a much smaller niche of California’s electorate than Latinos.

Individuals of Asian descent make up 13 percent of the state’s population overall and about 6 percent of registered voters, said political science professor Jane Junn at the University of Southern California. Chinese-Americans account for the bulk of that number.

“It’s a pretty darn smart strategy on her part,” Junn said of Whitman’s recent Chinese-language media buy. “As far as we know, Asian-Americans are still up for grabs, and they’re going to be a critical swing vote, particularly in California.”

Several California political experts said they knew of no other candidate for major statewide office in California, where Democrats have long outnumbered Republicans in voter registration, who has run TV ads in Chinese before Whitman.

Veteran Republican consultant Allen Hoffenblum said Whitman’s huge personal fortune gives her campaign the luxury of “leaving no stone unturned.”

“When you have all the money in the world, you can do anything you want,” he said.

Whitman has contributed roughly $120 million of her own money to her bid for governor against Democratic rival Jerry Brown, an unprecedented campaign bankroll that has failed to produce a lead for her in the latest polls.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham