By Dan Walters The Sacramento Bee
Published: Wednesday, Sep. 29, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 17A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 29, 2010 – 9:24 am

So who won Tuesday night’s first debate between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman?

There certainly were no knockout punches, and nothing appeared to emerge from the hourlong exchange that will reverberate in the days to come – no gaffes, no startling positions.

That said, Republican Whitman could be viewed as a winner of sorts because she proved that after the better part of two years of campaigning for governor, she’s learned to handle herself fairly well in public arenas and no longer flees when confronted with a tough question. Simply put, she held her own.

Democrat Brown was – well, he was Brown, the glib, sometimes humorous, off-the-cuff philosopher-prince who sometimes doesn’t know when to stop talking. Tellingly, he was rambling on during what was supposed to be his brief closing statement and had to be cut off by the debate moderator.

They avoided any depth on serious issues, however. Nothing about K-12 education or highway congestion, just a few words about water – and just generalities about the state’s chronic budget crisis.

Mostly, they regurgitated the well-established themes of their campaigns, Brown that he’s an experienced and savvy veteran who knows how to press the levers of politics and make state government work better, and Whitman that as an outsider with experience running a major corporation, she can change business as usual in the Capitol.

Their attacks on each other were also well-worn – Whitman that Brown is an out-of-date liberal who’s beholden to unions and soft on crime and taxes, Brown that Whitman is a novice who would give tax breaks to the rich and ignore the real needs of the state.

“I was delighted with how everything went,” Whitman said afterward, adding that she’s looking forward to the second debate in Fresno on Saturday. But she quickly departed after answering only a couple of reporters’ post-debate questions, saying she was taking her husband to dinner.

Brown, enigmatic as usual, refused to talk to reporters after the debate. Instead, he led a strange parade of newsies out of Mondavi Center on the UC Davis campus, then abruptly changed course, went back inside the building and disappeared behind a set of doors.

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