SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown and his Republican challenger Neel Kashkari will meet Thursday for what is likely to be the only gubernatorial debate this election season, as a new Field Poll finds the governor has a lead of 16 percentage points among likely voters.
In an unusual twist for a Republican candidate, Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official who helped lead the federal bank bailout, has made poverty and inequality centerpieces of his campaign. He has posed as a homeless man on the streets of Fresno to underscore the unevenness of California's economic recovery.
Those topics are likely to figure prominently during the Thursday night debate in a television studio across from the Capitol.
Education reform, the state's $68 billion high-speed rail project, Brown's realignment law that shifted tens of thousands of criminals to county jails, and the state's business climate are other possible subjects of disagreement.
Kashkari is expected to capitalize on electric carmaker Tesla's announcement Thursday that it would build its battery plant in Nevada instead of its home state of California as an example of California's unfriendly business environment.
Brown, 76, is likely to call attention to Kashkari's lead role in overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which bailed out the banks and investment houses that many blamed for creating the recession. Kashkari's campaign notes that the federal government eventually was repaid $435.8 billion after giving out $422.2 billion.
The Democratic governor heads into the debate enjoying relatively high popularity after helping turn years of state budget deficits into surpluses and acting as a check on the more liberal ambitions of the Democratic-controlled Legislature. He is trying for an unprecedented fourth term and has support from a wide array of interests and at least $23 million in his campaign account.
Kashkari, 41, pegged his personal fortune at less than $5 million before he spent $2 million of that on his primary campaign. He reported having $200,000 in his campaign account at the end of June and has collected another $650,000 since then.
Kashkari sparred with his chief primary election rival during a radio debate earlier this year, but Thursday's debate with Brown will provide his widest exposure to date and offers the best shot to make his case with voters.
He has struggled to gain attention and had called on Brown to debate him 10 times, finally settling for just one.
The hourlong debate starts at 7 p.m. PDT and will be held in the studios of The California Channel. Other sponsors are KQED, the Los Angeles Times and Telemundo52.
The debate, airing at the same time as the opening night of the NFL, was nearly derailed because of a last-minute dispute over seating arrangements.
Kashkari's campaign manager, Pat Melton, said he objected to the initial requirement that the candidates sit on low-backed stools behind lecterns the entire time, and asked that Kashkari be allowed to stand.
"He's just got a chronic lower back pain; he's had it since 2006," Melton said.
Melton said debate organizers rejected the request and threatened Wednesday night to cancel the debate unless Kashkari agreed to remain seated for the duration. The campaign agreed under protest, Melton said.
Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the organizers, said the extremely small studio dictated the production ground rules, including the stools.
"By the time you throw in three journalists, two candidates, a set, cameras, wires, water — you don't want to create a situation where one person moving could create a Chevy Chase moment," he said, referring to the comedian.