FRESNO (CBS/AP) – Democrat Jerry Brown kicked off the final days of what has become California’s most expensive gubernatorial campaign on Saturday by taking a swipe at his opponent’s lack of government experience, which he says is a liability at a time when the state faces deep fiscal challenges.
Republican Meg Whitman is the billionaire former chief executive of the online auction site eBay who is making her first run for public office but is promoting herself as a “proven job creator.” She also has acknowledged a history of rarely voting in elections.
“I think, you know, I want to run California like a business,” Brown said during a campaign stop in the Central Valley farming town of Merced, mocking one of Whitman’s early statements from the campaign trail. “I want to run it like a business, and in business the first thing you do is look at the resume. Have you done this job before? What are your skills? What do you know? Who recommends you? OK, I rest my case.”
Brown, the state’s attorney general, has a lengthy political resume that ranges from community college trustee to being a former two-term governor. He also has served as secretary of state and mayor of Oakland.
Whitman began her own three-day campaign push Saturday, pledging to create jobs and bring change to Sacramento. She said the state needs fresh ideas and that voters need to retire Brown after his many decades on the political stage.
In Southern California, she rallied about 200 supporters sitting on bleachers overlooking a round stage decorated with pumpkins, apples and flowers at the Orange County fairgrounds.
“You know, I’m a proven job creator, that’s what I’ve done for my entire career,” she said. “And Jerry Brown has been part of the war on jobs in Sacramento for 40 years, and it’s going to end on Tuesday.”
Whitman, who has spent $142 million from her personal fortune in the race, also noted that California voters have the opportunity to elect the first female governor in state history.
Her second stop of the day was in Vista at Directed Electronic Inc., a vehicle security and audio electronics company that was started by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa.
She told a crowd of about 300 supporters that she would make fixes to California’s public school system by defying the state’s largest teachers union. Whitman’s campaign has consistently attacked unions.
“We are going to set a goal of having the number one public school system in America,” Whitman said. “And you know how we’re going to do that? I am going to take on the bosses of the California Teachers Association.”
She said Brown “has no chance of doing this” because the union has been making independent expenditures on his behalf throughout the election season.
Whitman continued to blast labor as having too much control over state government after she met a boisterous and sometimes heckling crowd of protesters at a Friday campaign stop in Southern California. Saturday’s rallies had tight security and in Vista, San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies monitored who entered the business park.
Whitman took no questions from reporters at her first two stops Saturday.
Brown, meanwhile, was traveling throughout the state on a chartered jet during a final appeal to voters that began with a send-off at his campaign headquarters in Oakland’s warehouse district and will end at Oakland’s waterfront Monday night with a rally and fireworks display.
In one of a series of stops in the Central Valley, Brown addressed the Fresno County Democratic Women’s Club and talked about the need to invest in infrastructure. He said his father brought water to the valley when he was governor by presiding over the construction of California’s system of dams and aqueducts.
Brown also spoke about the need for California to continue investing in alternative energy sources, a move he suggested his opponent would oppose.
“We wouldn’t have to use foreign oil or we might not even have to buy Texas gas at some point. I know this other opponent whose name I don’t want to mention, she loves Texas. Oh yeah, and Detroit. I think she said something about Detroit, didn’t she,” he said of Whitman having compared Fresno to Detroit in describing the effects of the recession.
Whitman also has spoken positively of the pro-business, anti-regulation environment in Texas, and this week made a bet with the Republican governor of Texas over the World Series, even though she has not been elected to any office.
Brown began the day with about 100 supporters crowded into his warehouse district headquarters, chanting “Jerry, Jerry.” He said the recession and California’s persistent budget problems have left the nation’s most populous state in a perilous financial situation that will require “tough decisions” by the next governor.
At a stop in Stockton’s Victory Park later in the morning, Brown addressed a crowd of about 200, including about 40 firefighters from the Stockton Fire Department, by saying he is the candidate best equipped to make those decisions.
“It’s one thing to run a business and create a few thousand jobs. It’s quite another to lead a government and cooperate with business and labor and get California working again,” said Brown, who was joined by local and state Democratic elected officials in the blue collar port city.
The surge of campaign events, concluding Monday evening for both candidates, is an attempt to connect with voters and rally their core supporters after weeks of television ads that have been heavy on attacks.
A month ago, public opinion polls showed the gubernatorial race too close to call. But Brown appears to have gained the momentum in the final weeks of a campaign that has turned increasingly negative.
A Field Poll released Thursday showed the Democratic state attorney general with a double-digit lead over Whitman among likely voters, 49 percent to 39 percent.
The front-runner status gave Brown the luxury to spend most of the week away from the media, while Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of eBay, endured a rough week of appearances.
She was booed at first lady Maria Shriver’s women’s conference when she refused to stop airing attack ads against Brown, told a television talk show that her former housekeeper should be deported — then switched to her previous position the next day by saying the matter should be left to federal authorities.
The first-time candidate is counting on Republican anger over economic and spending issues to propel her past Brown, but, like any Republican running a statewide race in California, faces a steep deficit in voter registration. Democrats maintain a 13 percentage point advantage over registered Republicans.
Whitman had hoped to woo independents, who account for one in five California voters, but the Field Poll showed they are breaking Brown’s way, as are women and Latinos. She has dismissed the recent survey data, just as her supporters have.
Vieda Cantacessi of Laguna Niguel said she turns 61 on Halloween and would like to see a Whitman victory for her birthday present.
“I think Jerry Brown hasn’t held a job in his whole life other than running for political office, and all he wants to do is same old, same old,” said Cantacessi, who cheered Whitman on Saturday. “He started the problem of the pension crisis in this state with collective bargaining, and now he wants more of the same. Been there, done that, it’s time for a breath of fresh air.”