Brown, Whitman square off

Attorney General Jerry Brown and former eBay chief Meg Whitman confronted each other Tuesday in the first of three gubernatorial debates, with Whitman appearing aggressive but scripted and Brown focusing on his experience in government.

There were no knockout blows and no zingers. While the questioning from a panel of reporters was aggressive, the candidates gave scant specifics on such complex issues as balancing the budget, fixing troubled public pensions and improving the state’s stressed water-delivery system. The sharpest distinction was on immigration: Brown favored eventual legalization of undocumented immigrants, Whitman opposed it.

In the end, the 60-minute encounter at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center circled back to the themes that have dominated their campaigns: Whitman, a Republican, spent much of the evening depicting Brown as beholden to public-employee unions, while Brown, a Democrat, chided Whitman for supporting $5 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy.

Earlier in the campaign, a common assumption was that the more experienced Brown would prove a devastating debate foe for Whitman. But that didn’t prove to be the case: Whitman held her own, although little more, and was careful to stick to her campaign playbook.

As for Brown, who got the biggest laugh of the night when he discussed his age and pensions, he said his age should give comfort to voters who may fear he would run for president as soon as he is elected governor – as he did when he served the first time.

“Hell, if I was younger you know I would be running again,” he said. Now, he said, he has a wife and he doesn’t want to “close down the bars of Sacramento like I did when I was governor.”

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