The candidates clashed over the budget, environmental regulations, same-sex marriage and many other issues. Both called for changes in the current pension system. Brown said existing employees should increase their contributions.
Brown: "We need a two-tier pension system. We have to bargain this collectively. And you sit down with the labor groups, as Arnold has. He's already gotten some significant concessions. There's more coming."
Whitman said public safety workers deserve a defined benefit program. But for the rest?
Whitman: "New employees have got to come in under a different deal, a 401k style program for rank and file."
They also disagreed over whether to cut the capital gains tax - Whitman says yes, Brown says no - and about who was better equipped to negotiate with the state's public employee unions.
But the topic that had everyone talking after the debate was when moderator Tom Brokaw asked Brown about a voicemail recording that surfaced last week. One of Brown's campaign aides called Whitman a "whore." Brokaw said many women consider that word the same as calling an African American the N-word. Brown responded:
Brown: "I don't agree with that comparison."
Brown went on to apologize to Whitman.
Brown: "It's unfortunate. I'm sorry it happened. I apologize, Ms. Whitman."
To Whitman, that wasn't enough.
Whitman: "Every Californian and
especially women know exactly what's going on here - and that is a
deeply offensive term to women.
Brown: "Well, could I just interject? Have you chastised your chairman, Pete Wilson, who called the Congress whores to the public sector unions?"
Whitman: "You know better than that, Jerry. That's a completely different thing."
Sacramento State Government Professor Kim Nalder watched the debate with her students, and led a discussion afterwards. She says most voters have already made up their minds - and there was just one potential game-changer.
Nalder: "The extent to which the W comment is damaging to Brown and his response tonight, how well he sort of made up for that, that's really the only thing that might impact the race down the line."
Polls have shown the tight race shifting ever so slightly in Brown's favor - but those polls came after the story about Whitman employing an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper - and before the voicemail using the W word surfaced.