California gubernatorial debate overshadowed by personal jabs
SAN RAFAEL — Coming into their final debate of the California governor's race, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman had a chance to persuade a statewide audience they could turn around the economically troubled state.
Instead, their third face-to-face exchange resorted to many of the personal attacks that have dominated the last few weeks of the campaign.
Neither candidate presented any new ideas in a contest that is virtually tied just three weeks before Election Day and in which a fifth of voters remain undecided. A poll released two weeks ago found about half the respondents were dissatisfied with both candidates.
Before Brown and Whitman walked on stage, moderator and former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw told the audience at Dominican University that he planned to address not just the critical economic woes facing the nation's most populous state but the tone of the campaign.
The debate followed several weeks of personal attacks that had both candidates on the defensive — Whitman over revelations that her housekeeper was an illegal immigrant and Brown over an audio tape in which a female campaign aide called Whitman a "whore" for pandering to a Los Angeles police union.
While the first few minutes of the debate were civil, with Brown and Whitman touting California's potential and the tough decisions ahead, much of the hour-long face-off was dominated with rehashed verbal jousting on nearly every issue.
It left 66-year-old independent voter Tom Callinam of Mill Valley with little insight into the candidates' plans if elected governor.
"I have a hard choice. I haven't decided yet. I don't think that debate helped because of all the canned answers," said Callinam, who attended the debate. "I would have liked them to answer the questions."
Brown, 72, sought to describe Whitman as a billionaire corporate executive who wants to buy herself the state's top job to benefit herself and wealthy friends. Whitman, 54, repeatedly called her rival a career politician beholden to public employee unions who would continue the "same old, same old" failed policies in Sacramento.
Brown launched the first attack of the debate, criticizing Whitman's plan to eliminate capital gains taxes, a tax he said would benefit her and her wealthy friends.
"Ms. Whitman, I'd like to ask you how much money would you save if these tax breaks were in effect this year or last year?" he said.
Whitman, who smiled and laughed at the question, shot back, saying "Jerry Brown's just wrong about this." She went on to explain how such a cut would encourage job creation and bring more revenue into the state. She did not say how much she pays in capital gains taxes, although she acknowledged she was an investor who would benefit.
"You know what? I'm an investor, and investors will benefit from this but so will job creators, and I was a job creator," Whitman said.
She also accused Brown of leaving the state in worse shape than when he began as governor during his tenure from 1975 to 1983. She repeated criticisms, which have been shown to be unfounded by The Associated Press and other news organizations, that unemployment nearly doubled and state spending increased by 120 percent under his watch.