Republican Neel Kashkari got what may be his only debate against Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown Thursday night - and neither candidate shied away from attacking the other.
The debate came two months before Election Day, during the National Football League season opener, in a cramped TV studio across the street from the state Capitol.
Kashkari came out firing. “I think Gov. Brown means well, but his 40 years in government have left him out of touch with the struggles of working families. He’s declared a California comeback, and yet our middle class is all but destroyed.”
Brown pushed back, seizing on a question about Kashkari trailing by 16 points in a new poll. “I think the question was: How do you expect to win, Neel? And I’ll tell you, you don’t really have much expectation to win, because things have been accomplished in Sacramento.”
Brown repeatedly jabbed at Kashkari’s investment banking career and leadership of the federal government’s bank bailout program.
“I feel like I’m getting a sales pitch from, I don’t know whom. Yeah, Neel – well, you learned your job well there, working at Goldman Sachs and the rest of the people who wrecked the economy,” Brown said. “You bailed them out, though, it’s kind of like the arsonist putting out the fire – I really appreciate that.”
Kashkari mocked the governor for some of the bills Brown is signing into law.
“Plastic bags is not gonna do it,” he said. “Bringing my dogs to a restaurant is not gonna do it. And neither is regulating football practice or soccer or baseball. We need to actually put people back to work, Governor.”
But at the heart of the debate were two very different views of California’s recovery.
“Our state was in a shambles. They were calling it a failed state. Well, it’s back. It’s not all the way back – and he likes to createthe construct that if we’re not perfect, we’re not making progress. We are making incremental process,” Brown said.
“You know, Governor,” Kashkari countered, “you say, oh, you’re making incremental changes. We’re 46th in education. We’re 44th for jobs. We’re number one in poverty. The time for incremental has long since passed, Governor. We actually need bold reforms to rebuild the middle class.”
This may have been Kashkari’s best chance to reach California voters. Brown has a huge fundraising advantage and has indicated that this debate will be the only one.