By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Wednesday, Jul. 7, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

California is obviously a troubled state, with a moribund economy, sky-high unemployment, a chronically unbalanced state budget, a failing public education system, a congested and crumbling transportation infrastructure, and a looming water crisis.

Ideally, therefore, this column would explore how the two major candidates for governor, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman, would resolve these and other pressing issues – or, perhaps, whether they are even resolvable.

But while tens of millions of dollars are being spent on their duel, with even heavier expenditures looming, virtually none of their campaign effluent is telling us what either would do as governor six months hence.

So far, it’s been a political version of a squabble between two nursery schoolers over who touched the other first. Whitman’s TV ads portray Brown as an over-the-hill hippie who failed in his first stint as governor while he and his surrogates picture her as a heartless and clueless businesswoman trying to buy the election.

In the absence of any substance, therefore, we are left with only the gubernatorial contest as a sports event – who’s ahead, who’s behind, which buzz words are working and which aren’t.

It’s the stuff political junkies and their media enablers crave – although why is a mystery – but it’s just empty calories for those who wonder whether either of them has what it takes to govern a state as large, diverse and fractious as California.

With that rather distasteful caveat, the latest poll by Field Research Corp. – recently rated as the most consistently reliable of those testing California’s political waters – finds that Brown and Whitman, after a month of post-primary jousting, are tied.

Brown holds what Field calls a “statistically insignificant” one-point lead over Whitman, 44 percent to 43 percent, with the remaining 13 percent of likely November voters either undecided or opting for a minor party candidate.

The exchanges of personal attacks have raised the negative images of both without affecting their positive numbers, indicating that voters may already be disgusted with their choices.

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