The amazing race

Whitman vs. Brown: a political junkie’s delight

Meg Whitman versus Jerry Brown: free-spending, carefully packaged billionaire novice against penny-pinching, ad-libbing veteran pol. Who could have predicted, a couple of years ago, that Californians would see a race for governor as unlikely and entertaining as this one?

It’s certainly off to a strange start, with Whitman engaged in a bizarre catfight with the pro-Brown California Nurses Association. Irked apparently by the nurses’ theater troupe of “Queen Meg” and her royal court dogging her campaign appearances, she’s fought back by trying, unsuccessfully, to force union leaders to give her a list of members so she can contact them personally.

Whitman should know this is a fight she can’t win: The nurses won’t back off, and besides, people like them.

Then there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, the sitting governor, who had the temerity to tell reporters at the Southern California Journalism Awards that Whitman’s proposal to eliminate 40,000 state worker positions was “bogus talk” and laud them for asking where those cuts would be made. Is that any way for one Republican to talk about another?

Meanwhile, Whitman has been flooding the state with ads, including the attack ad “A Legacy of Failure?” The reputable, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, analyzed and determined the ad was thoroughly riddled with falsehoods.

But it appears to be working. The latest Field Poll has her and Brown running neck-and-neck, a shift in her favor from the Reuters/Ipsos poll of a week ago that put Brown ahead 45 percent to 39 percent.

Meanwhile, Whitman has refused to commit to a series of debates with Brown, whose desire to take her on in a format where his quickness and experience would shine is almost palpable. As a result, neither candidate is addressing the many profound issues facing the state, beginning with its fiscal ills.

The Whitman machine has moved quickly to heal her image following her bloody victory over Steve Poizner in the Republican primary. She’s been running a lot of ads targeting the Hispanic community, presenting herself as a friend of Latinos despite the fact that during the primary she swung far to the right, vowing to crack down on illegal immigrants and unconditionally opposing “amnesty” for those now living here.

Meanwhile, Brown is hoarding his campaign money, saying it’s too soon to start spending, that voters are tired of political ads. He’s busy on the campaign trail, though, and grabs every opportunity to portray Whitman as an arriviste who’s trying to buy her way into power.

Recently, on an L.A. morning television news show, Brown commented: “Were I a CEO and someone said, ‘You know what, I’ve never been in this company, I never saw the product and I want to be a boss,’ I’d say, ‘Hey, why don’t you start at the bottom and work your way up?’ That’s the same way with government. You can’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Gee, I’ve got a billion dollars and I want to be governor.’ You got to learn something because those people up in Sacramento are sharks.”