John Wildermuth, Carla Marinucci,Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Political Writers
San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, October 31, 2010

(10-31) 04:00 PDT Costa Mesa, Orange County —

Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman are wrapping up their campaigns for governor, leaving voters Tuesday with a very distinct choice – between an experienced politician who says he’ll be the most frugal governor ever and a former CEO who has spent more than $160 million in an attempt to convince voters that the state needs a political outsider to rebuild it.

As the pair crisscrossed California this weekend, Brown – the former two-term governor and Oakland mayor – sounded optimistic and forward-looking, buoyed by polls that show him with a comfortable lead.

At a Saturday morning rally outside his Oakland headquarters that kicked off his final 12-city, three-day tour, Brown pledged to bring “tough love” to Sacramento, soberly promising a future that will be “a little sweet, a little sour.”

“I’m going to listen to people on all sides … assuming I get there,” Brown said. He emphasized, as he did at stops throughout the day, that he wasn’t ready to “count my chickens.”

Later, Brown told The Chronicle aboard a chartered plane flying from Stockton to Merced that he will begin “two weeks from Tuesday” to meet with state legislators and plunge into dealing with California’s fiscal mess.

In Costa Mesa at the start of a three-day, 11-stop tour, Whitman told an audience of 250 flag-waving supporters Saturday that the race is a dead heat.

“In three days, we will begin to let you keep more of your own money, let business keep more of their money, and bring more good jobs to California,” Whitman said.

A month ago, polls showed Brown and Whitman in a statistical dead heat. Last week, the Field Poll showed Brown up 10 points.

Brown opened up that lead over the past few weeks – particularly among the Latino and independent voters who Whitman needs to overcome the 2.3 million registered voter advantage that Democrats enjoy in California.
‘Jobs are on the way’

Whitman’s support has tumbled among Latinos over the past month in the wake of her handling of a controversy involving her employment of undocumented housekeeper Nicky Diaz Santillan for nine years.

Despite public polls turning against her, the billionaire former eBay CEO was upbeat Saturday as she rallied supporters at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

“This is exciting, isn’t it?” Whitman said as she stepped off her green campaign bus, the “Take Back Sacramento Express,” with the slogan “Jobs are on the way” lettered in orange across the side.

Her promise of better financial times, combined with dramatic changes in the state’s government, was a strong selling point for people such as Keith Mackie, a former Danville resident who retired from shipping firm American President Lines. Saturday’s event was his first political rally.

“I wanted to show Meg that we support her and need change in Sacramento,” said Mackie, who now lives in Newport Beach (Orange County). “With all this spending, we’re headed for the abyss without a complete change.”

In her five-minute talk, Whitman slammed Brown as being “part of the war on jobs in Sacramento for 40 years.”
Individual appeals

With oversized “Take Back Sac” signs towering nearby, Whitman promised that her victory would mean an end to wasteful state spending and any new taxes, and the beginning of a bright new day for California’s economy.

“You have the power to take this election,” she told the crowd in a plea to turn out the vote Tuesday. “You have a chance to show the rest of the United States that the Golden State is the comeback state.”

Brown, in an interview with The Chronicle, discussed his plans should he win. As he talks to lawmakers and builds consensus, he said, he will be sensitive to Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“My process will respect that,” he said. “We have one governor.”

Asked how he’ll succeed when Schwarzenegger has had problems getting the Legislature to work together, Brown said he will be relentless in making direct and individual appeals to lawmakers. He warned that on issues he cares about, “I can be inexhaustible.”

But the Legislature alone won’t be making the choices, Brown said. “We’ll let Californians decide … it’s a choice,” he said. “People have to understand what’s at stake … it’s what I call civic dialogue.”

Asked about the potential of going to the ballot box next year to ask voters to approve new taxes, Brown sidestepped the question, saying it was too premature to make those judgments before the election.

On the stump, Brown, the current state attorney general, cautioned that what’s needed now is “a sober assessment of what’s ahead.”
Living within means

“We’ve got some tough times … there’s going to be tough decisions,” he said, adding, “Ultimately, you have to live within your means. … That is going to be the spirit if I’m elected governor.”

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