Much heat, little light in final debate between Whitman and Brown

As Midterm elections near, some debates got nasty as candidates strayed from the issues.
By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 9:54 AM

SAN RAFAEL, CALIF. - Those who tuned in to Tuesday night's third and final debate in the hard-fought battle for California governor learned at least one thing about the candidates: These two people really don't like each other.

Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman unleashed a series of personal attacks that overshadowed their proposals for dealing with the problems of an economically depressed state whose government is barely functional.

Their most acidic exchange came over a recent revelation that someone in Brown's campaign had called Whitman a "whore" in a private conversation, inadvertently recorded when Brown was leaving a voice mail message for a union official.

Brown, the state's attorney general and a former governor, offered a tepid apology. He rejected a statement by moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC News that the term was akin to using a racial slur.

But Whitman, a former chief executive of eBay, insisted: "Every Californian - and especially women - know what's going on here."

Brown then attempted to turn the table by asking whether Whitman would apologize on behalf of one of her supporters, former California governor Pete Wilson, who referred to Congress as whores. Whitman insisted there was no comparison between the two incidents.

The sparring continued even after the hour-long debate at Dominican University. In post-debate remarks to reporters, Whitman said she had been "stunned by Governor Brown's insensitivity to what that word means to women."

Brown appeared soon after, and said, "I'd like Ms. Whitman to apologize to her housekeeper for something that I think is really insensitive" - a reference to the revelation that Whitman fired a longtime household employee who, she discovered, was in the country illegally.

But those were far from the only heated moments. Over and over again, Whitman portrayed Brown as an example of failed leadership and a politician who is beholden to public employee unions. Brown described Whitman - a first-time candidate who has poured nearly $140 million of her personal fortune into a campaign that has broken all spending records - as inexperienced in making government work.

When Whitman defended her proposal to eliminate the capital gains tax, saying that it was a barrier to investment and job creation, Brown demanded to know how much money Whitman - a billionaire - would save from such a move.

"I was a job creator. We have got to get someone in office who knows what the conditions are for small businesses to grow and thrive," she retorted. "Your business is politics. You've been doing this 40 years and you have been part of the war on jobs in this state for 40 years."

If there was one uplifting note from the night for Californians, it was probably this: There are only three more weeks to go before the end of this campaign.

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