Business Update with Mark Lacter |

Brown, Whitman, Schwarzenegger on one stage

NBC's Matt Lauer must have known he'd get a rise by asking the two candidates for governor if they would dump all the negative ads for the remaining days of the campaign. The huge crowd at the Long Beach Convention Center went nuts at the suggestion, while both Brown and Whitman looked as if they were both having a really bad case of acid reflux (nobody ever said running for governor was easy). "You've got plenty of positive ads," Lauer said to both candidates, "and you could pull your negative ads and replace them with positive ads." Brown started off by saying "Negativity is in the eye of the beholder," which is true but definitely not what this audience wanted to hear. So Brown did what any savvy politician would do: He changed course. "If Meg wants to do that, I'll be glad to do that. We can settle the discussion later today and I'm sure we could work something out." Understand that Brown is comfortably ahead in most of the polls, so he wouldn't have all that much to lose by taking the high road. For Whitman, however, negative ads are about all she has left. Perhaps that explains her equivocation:

So here's what I'll do. I'll take down any ads that can even be remotely construed as a personal attack. But I don't think we can take down the ads that talk about where Gov. Brown stands on the issues. I just don't think it's the right thing to do.

The audience was not happy with the distinction. Whitman's ads about Brown and the issues have been criticized on many fronts as misleading or flat-out inaccurate. Brown, who appeared to be the favorite among those in attendance, became even more interested in the positive-ad idea.

I have one nice ad where I look into the camera and I say what I'm for. You have a very nice ad where you look into the camera - pretty good ad, by the way. We can put both of them on and let all the other ones go off. I'll agree to that right now.

The audience erupted. Whitman was now stuck. Lauer said to her: "If you believe the polls you're down by some points. So some could say what you've tried at this point isn't completely working, why not try a different course?" What on earth could Whitman say?

Jerry Brown has been in politics for 40 years, and there's a long track record. And I want to make sure that people really understand what's going on. I'm not doing it in a mean-spirited way, I just think it's important for people to understand what the track record was in Oakland and what the track record was as governor.

Translation: Don't hold your breath about the positive ads. By the way, Schwarzenegger sat back during much of the time, making a few references to the candidates shvitzing and looking positively relieved that he wasn't having to go through this nonsense. He has refused to endorse either candidate, but said at the end of the session that California was blessed with the two best political candidates in the country. Here's the link to the Women's Conference. As these things go, it was pretty entertaining.