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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro filling in for Renee Montagne, who's in Afghanistan.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

We're going to check in with two of the intense campaigns in this election season. In a moment, we'll hear from one of the contests that may determine control of the House.

We'll start in California, where the candidates for governor debated last night. Democrat Jerry Brown, a former California governor, and Republican Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, agreed on only two things - first, that California is dysfunctional, and second, that electing their opponent would continue the state's slide.

Here's more from NPR's Ina Jaffe.

INA JAFFE: The California budget is three months overdue, unemployment is above 12 percent, and most voters think the state's on the wrong track. Former eBay chief Meg Whitman says what California needs to solve its problems is some business smarts. You want to create jobs? Then improve the business climate.

Ms. MEG WHITMAN (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate): We've got examine every tax, every regulation, and say, are we competitive to neighboring states?

JAFFE: Whitman proposes cutting a number of taxes, including capital gains. Jerry Brown said that would punch a huge hole in the budget and called the idea a giveaway for rich people - like Whitman.

Mr. JERRY BROWN (Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate): I have a very specific plan and it's not to give a $5 billion tax break to myself, much less to the billionaires and the millionaires.

JAFFE: Meg Whitman's fortune, estimated at more than a billion dollars, has become one of the biggest stories of this race. She's spent $119 million of her own money, a record for a U.S. political campaign. But she insisted she's not trying to buy the election.

Ms. WHITMAN: Well, I have invested a lot of my own money in this campaign. But you know what? I dont think you can buy elections. I think Californians are too smart.

JAFFE: And spending her own money, argued Whitman, makes her independent of the special interests who usually contribute to political campaigns, like the public employee unions who've supported her opponent. But Brown insisted he'd be independent of union interests now, as he was when he served as governor 30 years ago.

Mr. BROWN: As far as unions, I'm the only governor that ever vetoed the pay raises for all public employees. I did it once, I did it twice. I'll do it again if I have to.

JAFFE: Opinion polls show this race is a dead heat. And while the term career politician is a handicap in many campaigns this year, Jerry Brown embraces his four-decade resume - former governor, former mayor of Oakland, currently state attorney general. To Whitman, it just means Brown's had more time than most to be corrupted by special interests.

Ms. WHITMAN: The labors unions and Jerry Brown have been joined at the hip for 40 years. I mean my view is putting Jerry Brown in charge of negotiating with the labor unions around pensions, around how many people we have in the state government, is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

JAFFE: As combative as the debate was, Whitman remained poised, cheerful and always hit her talking points, whether asked about them or not. Brown was looser, with self-deprecating wit, like his response when asked if he could assure Californians that if elected he'd focus on being governor and not run for president, as he did twice when he was governor before. The 72-year-old Brown's answer? Nah, he's too old now.

Mr. BROWN: One more thing, I now have a wife and, you know, I come home at night. I dont try to close down the bars of Sacramento like I used to do when I was governor of California. So dont worry about that. I'm in for the - I'm in for the duration here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: Whitman was not amused. Electing Jerry Brown as governor again, she suggested, would do nothing to turn California around.

Ms. WHITMAN: I thought Einstein had it right. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.

JAFFE: But Brown warned that a business executive with no political experience is also something California voters tried before when they elected their current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Right now fewer than 30 percent of Californians think he's doing a good job.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Davis, California.

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