The final gubernatorial debate is tonight in San Rafael, and will be hosted by Tom Brokaw on an NBC station near you at 6:30. The previous two debates saw Jerry Brown win clear victories over Meg Whitman, who either came off as a robot reading lines or as Cruella DeWhitman when she was telling successful young students they didn’t belong in school.
With Whitman consistently behind in the polls, nothing short of a knockout blow will revive her chances. She’s already spent over $120 million on this campaign and has saturated the airwaves, so Californians know her about as well as they ever will. Only a decisive win matters to Whitman, anything else is a loss.
Unfortunately for Whitman, it’s not clear how she’s going to get that win. She has shown herself to be deeply out of touch with the voters, at times sounding like she was running for governor of Texas or alienating a blue state electorate by namedropping reviled right-wing politicians. And Jerry Brown has connected with voters by offering honest, unscripted, and blunt answers to the questions about the state’s problems.
Apparently the Whitman campaign hopes that the debate will be dominated by questions related to their manufactured controversy – the one about someone tangentially linked to the Brown campaign calling Whitman a “whore” for buying off a police union by exempting them from her wacko pension reforms.
It would be a shame if even a minute was wasted on that totally irrelevant issue. So far, the moderation and questions at the first two debates have been very good, with hard-hitting questions on the actual problems facing California – economic recovery, the budget, immigration, water, etc – dominating the conversation, as well they should. Tom Brokaw ought to focus on those kinds of issues, rather than turning this into an episode of Access Hollywood.
Brown, for his part, needs only to keep up the pace of his first two debates, where he offered direct and genuine answers to the questions he was asked. It would also be good if the progressive streak he showed in answers to questions about labor unions (where he honored public workers) and immigration (where he emphasized the immorality of scapegoating immigrants) were continued and extended. Brown’s secret weapon is his skillful use of progressive framing, which emphasizes his populism and contrasts well against Whitman’s vicious right-wing greed.
We’ll see what happens tonight at 6:30!