Whitman and Brown are crafting their messages to fit voters’ mood, but in reality both reflect their parties’ philosophies.

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
October 10, 2010

The candidates running to become California’s next governor are working hard to garner the support of the centrists who will decide the race. Republican Meg Whitman has taken unprecedented steps to court voters who typically lean left. And Democrat Jerry Brown is running ads that could have come from a “tea party” candidate on the right, highlighting the need for the state to live within its means and move decision-making to the local level.

Both avoid mention of their party affiliation, despite Brown’s status as a Democratic stalwart and Whitman’s as a fresh, nationally viable face for the GOP.

These messages are crafted to contour to the political winds of 2010 — voter distrust of incumbents is at record levels, and disgust at the dysfunction in Sacramento is palpable. But in reality both candidates hew closely to their political parties’ core beliefs.

Whitman believes government has turned into a thorny obstacle that blocks prosperity for taxpayers and business, while Brown believes it is a tool to provoke change, stem abuses by the powerful and provide protection for the neediest.

These views play out daily as they spar about their proposals to fix the state, such as how they would spur job creation. Whitman believes targeted tax cuts, including the elimination of the state’s capital-gains tax, would prompt employers to start hiring again. Brown counters that such a move would rip a multibillion-dollar hole in the state’s budget and cut funding to schools. His proposal would use the government to increase the market for renewable energy and stimulate the creation of green jobs.

In addition to clashing mindsets, the race is a referendum on what resume voters believe is best suited to overhaul a state with overwhelming problems, from a $19-billion budget gap to failing schools: a successful corporate chief or a politician who has spent decades in public life. Does an outsider’s fresh perspective trump an insider’s knowledge of government?

Whitman has pledged to take the lessons she learned leading EBay from a small Silicon Valley start-up into a massive success story and apply them to Sacramento.

“I know government isn’t a business, and it shouldn’t be,” Whitman said in a recent television advertisement. “But the same values of accountability and focus that make California businesses among the best in the world could do a lot to fix Sacramento.”

Brown argues that his understanding of the halls of power and the autonomy he feels at the age of 72 mean he can cut through the morass that bedevils the statehouse.

“I’ve got the know-how, I’ve got the experience, and at this point in my life, I’ve got more insight and, I believe, more independence,” Brown said in their first debate.

Whitman has shattered national spending records by contributing more than $121 million of her wealth to her effort so far. Counting primary spending, the novice candidate has spent more than $140 million on a juggernaut campaign. Her massive coffers have allowed her to expand the reach of the traditional Republican candidate — for example, courting Latinos by running ads during the World Cup and launching innovative ways to contact voters.

Brown, meanwhile, is a former governor and the son of a former governor. His campaign has been buoyed by both the Democrats’ double-digit voter-registration advantage and the fact that he is among the best-known political names in California.

Brown relied on his name recognition — along with the multimillion-dollar campaign waged on his behalf by labor — to keep him in the hunt over the summer. Some Democrats were skeptical of this strategy, but Brown argued that he needed to shepherd his money for the fall, when voters would be paying attention. He has nearly $23 million to spend in the final weeks of the campaign.

In addition to serving as governor from 1975 to 1983, Brown is the state’s current attorney general and the former mayor of Oakland.

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