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Brown on defensive over Whitman remark

In a private conversation inadvertently captured on voice mail, Jerry Brown, California's Democratic candidate for governor and his aides discuss their intention to portray his GOP opponent, Meg Whitman, as a "whore."

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By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 7:10 AM

Jerry Brown has a woman problem - he doesn't seem to grasp what it means to be running against one.

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The California governor's race generated yet another controversy Friday after the Los Angeles Times reported a private conversation, inadvertently captured on voice mail, in which the Democratic candidate and his aides discussed the possibility of portraying his billionaire GOP opponent, Meg Whitman, as a "whore."

It was not the first time that Brown, the state attorney general and a former governor, has spoken of his female opponent or her supporters in terms that could be interpreted as sexist.

Brown's campaign quickly apologized, but the choice of words was inopportune, given that the outcome of the race may well depend on how well Whitman does with women voters.

Whitman - who is financing a record-breaking $140 million campaign from the fortune she earned as chief executive of eBay - presents a new kind of challenge for Democrats.

Where they have traditionally enjoyed a strong advantage with women, the latest Field Poll, conducted last month, showed Whitman and Brown each drawing the support of 41 percent of likely female voters.

"A woman with money? A woman who is not running for office because her father did, or her husband did, or with her husband's money?" said GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway. "Democrats are caught totally unaware that the 2010 version of Republican women candidates is like nothing they have ever seen."

Earlier, Brown had tried to explain Whitman's strong poll numbers with women by saying her female supporters had been "bought, or paid for" with the many millions that Whitman has spent on negative campaign ads.

Brown also raised eyebrows when he suggested to the hosts of the talk show "Good Day LA"- two of whom were female and blond, as is Whitman - that staging a debate there would bring "another blonde on the show."

And for months, the California Nurses Association, a Brown ally, has shadowed Whitman's campaign appearances with an actress who calls herself "Queen Meg," decked out in a crown and sash and accompanied by a retinue of union members wearing blond wigs.

Even some Democrats are unsettled by the guerrilla theatrics.

"I don't remember anyone ever referring to [billionaire presidential candidate] Ross Perot" that way, said Ann Lewis, who was a top adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.

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