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What To Expect In Tuesday's Calif. Gubernatorial Debate

Laura Cueva |
September 27, 2010 | 3:00 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The Race for California
The Race for California

Tuesday's debate holds potential for either Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman to pull forward and break the dead heat of the past few months, but political analysts say that’s unlikely to happen.

"Given the closeness of the race, both sides will play it safe," said Corey Cook, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco.

Cook said he expects that neither side will do much to stand out, since it’s better to break even than to try to get ahead of the other and fail.

But with 1 in 5 California voters still undecided, either Whitman or Brown needs to step up their game and earn those extra votes.

It’s tough to say who’s more likely to move ahead, though Brown has been known to speak his mind more openly than Whitman, putting her in a tough spot. Brown has lots of experience in the public debate arena, having gone up against major political players like Bill Clinton and Pete Wilson. He’s been a politician for most of his life and Whitman has little experience. She tends to stick to her script in front of friendly crowds, where she hasn’t had to answer many difficult questions.

On the other hand, because Whitman is new to the game, she will have to do considerably less to be considered the winner. More is expected of Brown, and as Whitman’s spokesperson Tucker Bounds said, "[Brown] is a seasoned veteran of these formats, so he certainly will have a higher bar to clear." 

What Whitman should focus on during this debate is becoming more relatable to the everyday person. In the latest USC/Los Angeles Times poll, she scored 12 points behind Brown on whether she understood “the problems and concerns of people like me.” Though the poll showed people are confident in her ability to change California, they didn’t feel a personal connection to her.

She’s also got to show that she understands how to run a government. Though her business background has worked in her favor thus far, she’s got to prove to Californians that she’s got the know-how to put her plans into action.

Brown, on the other hand, needs to be careful not to stick his foot in his mouth. In the past, he’s been known to make some tactical mistakes. Most recently he questioned Bill Clinton’s honesty, bringing up the Lewinsky scandal, for which he later apologized. And because this is his first matchup against a woman and a newcomer to politics, all eyes (and ears) will be on him.

The debate will likely focus largely on the economy. Whitman has touted her plans for fixing California, saying she wants to cut the state’s workforce and slash welfare to pay for higher education. Brown has said he wants to take power from the state and bring it to the local level. Neither has gone into specifics about their plans.

Because the format is much different from what they’re used to (30-second campaign spots), the debate should be interesting to watch. Whether it makes a difference has yet to be seen.

Tuesday’s debate will be held at UC Davis, followed by another on Oct. 2 in Fresno, and a third on Oct. 12 in Marin County.

Brown-Whitman Debate Details: Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 6 p.m. Viewers can watch a live stream on the UC Davis website or the KABC website. An audio stream will be available at CapRadio.org.

The debate will be televised on KTVU-TV (FOX) and KQED-TV (PBS) in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose area; KSBW-TV (NBC) in the Salinas-Monterey area; KSBY-TV (NBC) in the San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles area; KNVN-TV (NBC) in the Chico-Redding area; KSEE-TV (NBC) in the Fresno-Visalia area; KGET-TV (NBC) in Bakersfield; KABC-TV (ABC) in Los Angeles; KNSD-TV (NBC) in San Diego; and KMIR-TV (NBC) in Palm Springs.

To reach reporter  Laura Cueva, click here.

Or follow her on Twitter @leccueva.

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