By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Gubernatorial rivals Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman slugged it out toe to toe Tuesday, a far cry from their last debate when Brown hammered Whitman mercilessly on her hiring and firing an illegal immigrant housekeeper.

Whitman was clearly the more aggressive during their third and last debate at Dominican University in Marin County, taking advantage of the Brown campaign’s embarrassment about an accidentally recorded phone message in which someone close to Brown, in his presence, called Whitman a “whore” in obtaining a police union endorsement.

Brown apologized again, but then may have stumbled by declaring that calling someone a whore is not as bad as using the N-word to describe an African American, running the risk of alienating women, who are half of the state’s voters.

Sensing an opening, Whitman declared that California “deserves better than slurs and personal attacks” and that calling someone a whore is “a deeply offensive term to women.”

It was, in a sense, turnabout for the verbal lashing that Brown laid on Whitman 10 days earlier in Fresno about her illegal immigrant housekeeper.

That exchange aside, moderator Tom Brokaw, the former NBC news anchor, pretty much kept the debate on more substantive matters, questioning both about the deficit-ridden state budget, public employee pensions, crime, illegal immigration, and ballot measures dealing with global warming and marijuana.

By and large, both stuck to their standard positions on those issues and at every opportunity returned to their core campaign themes – Brown that Whitman is a tycoon who lacks political experience, Whitman that Brown is a political retread beholden to unions.

However, Whitman presented a more animated and extemporaneous demeanor than she had in past debates, while Brown, one of the glibbest politicians ever to draw a breath, often found himself on the defensive and made a couple of verbal gaffes.

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