Whitman, Brown hold last debate before election day tonight

California gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown
California gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown
Justin Sullivan and Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Tonight is the last gubernatorial debate between Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman. Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw is the moderator of tonight's debate and spoke with KPCC's Patt Morrison.

Brokaw talked about the contrasting personalities of the two candidates. "For journalists, this is as good as it gets."

Brokaw said he thought the first two debates were pretty good, noting that the candidates got more into the immigration issue than in earlier debates. He said that the issues being debated play beyond California, particularly jobs and the economy.

KPCC's Frank Stoltze pointed out that one key question in tonight's debate is how Brown or Whitman will bring Democrats and Republicans together in Sacramento's fractured legislature.

It's a close race, with poll numbers dead even between Brown and Whitman. Experts say that Whitman needs over 80 percent of Republicans, 20 to 25 percent of Democreats, and the majority of independent voters to win. Whitman is facing the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans in California, giving her an uphill battle. Polls are also showing 20 percent undecided, with some experts predicting those voters won't show up in November.

When it comes to what he'll ask tonight, Brokaw didn't give away too much.

"I probably have a couple surprises tonight, slightly different takes on these California-related issues," he said.

The debate's format will be fairly freeform, with each candidate getting 90 seconds to answer, with rebuttals when called for as decided by Brokaw. There will be no opening or closing statements.

There's been one debate since the scandal over Whitman's housekeeper first came out. Since the last debate, a voicemail came out with a Brown aide calling Whitman a "whore" over a law enforcement pension deal. The story hasn't garnered nearly as much media attention as the Whitman story. Brown's campaign apologized for the use of salty language by an aide, but Brown himself didn't make the comment.

Democratic consultant Bill Carrick told KPCC's Stoltze, "The problem is that people don't know [Whitman], and she's gotten into a formulaic approach."

Some might say that a problem Whitman is facing is a likability factor; as KPCC's Frank Stoltze noted, "She's not particularly warm and pithy. Jerry Brown, on the other hand, is very comfortable in front of the cameras."

Carrick said that he feels Brown hasn't given enough detail. He said that people want to hear about what Brown is going to do in the future when it comes to initiatives and policies, less about the past.

Stoltze noted that part of that is Whitman trying to portray herself as the sober businesswoman, an efficiency expert that can come in and clean up Sacramento. Meanwhile, Brown is trying to portray her as someone who puts the rich above the poor. Whitman and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina softened their images a bit at a recent Latino event where they drank tequila shooters, though that may not have been a spontaneous moment.

"I've been doing this for 45 years and I still love it," said Brokaw. For over four decades, Brokaw has been covering politics. The first campaign he ever covered was the gubernatorial race between Jerry Brown's father, Pat Brown, and Ronald Reagan.

Brokaw talked about defining debate moments, noting that he was the one who asked Lloyd Bentsen the question of Republican Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice presidential debate that led to his opponent, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, saying the famous line, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Brokaw said those defining moments aren't always as obvious at the time.

Brokaw talked about this debate coming at an important point in history. "There is something kind of cosmic about this election," said Brokaw, and it plays into the question of whether "the magic of California" is still intact.

You can listen to the debate live at KPCC.org and on the radio at 89.3 FM at 6:30 p.m. C-SPAN will be carrying the debate on a delay.