This is going to be a big night in the world of California politics.
California gubernatorial candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman have scheduled their first debate tonight on the UC Davis campus beginning at 6 p.m. It's the first of three scheduled debates prior to the Nov. 2 election.
Prop Zero's Joe Mathews will be Live Blogging from the debate at this link.
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The stakes are higher than usual because recent polls show the two are in a statistical tie with about 20-percent of the voters still undecided.
Experts say because there is no clear front-runner, the face off could be key to the race, adding a gaffe would be extremely costly.
"It's the first time voters will have a chance to see them in the same place under the same conditions," former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis told AP. "Generally, people come away from a debate thinking one of the candidates did better. Your message has to be sharpened."
Whitman and Brown have very different resumes. Brown is a seasoned politician who was first elected back in 1969. Whitman is a wildy rich businesswoman making her first attempt at public office.
Both candidates are expected to be asked to give specific details about how they would fix California's budget problems.
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Both have been critical of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's handling of the budget, but neither has been very specific about how they would close the $19 billion budget deficit. That will change tonight.
Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Stanford-based Hoover Institution, told Bay City News the lack of specifics is one of the big problems with both campaigns.
"Jerry talks about making tough choices and shifting government control from Sacramento to the local, here's a chance to be specific. She talks about getting waste out of government, here's a chance to say what that is," Whalen said.
Prop Zero's Larry Gerston said one of the challenges for Brown specifically is to answer questionsin a concise manner.
"Brown has his arms around these issues and has for decades," said Gerston. "Its not a matter of his mastery of issues. It's how he comports himself. There's a point where you look too smart and you become condescending."
Larry Berman, who is a political science professor at Davis, said for Whitman the challenge will to be a person outside of a :30 television spot.
She has to prove there's substance behind all of these proposals, and this isn't just a $100 million whim to become governor," Berman said.
That's a lot to pack in a debate that is scheduled for all of one hour.