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Meg Whitman declines Jerry Brown challenge to stop negative ads

At a women's conference, moderator Matt Lauer challenges California's gubernatorial candidates to stop negative ads. Jerry Brown said he would if Meg Whitman did. Whitman skirted the issue.

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“Matt Lauer was not giving an inch, Arnold was loving it, and Jerry Brown was keeping quiet,” says Ms. O'Connor.

Yet Whitman created her own problems during the forum, says O'Connor. At an conference that featured inspiring speeches by luminaries as first lady Michelle Obama, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and poet Mary Oliver, Whitman still appeared to be in stump-speech mode.

“The crowd was dumbfounded when [Whitman] gave them the same lines they have heard 500 times before in her ads that ‘Jerry has been in politics 40 years’ and ‘people should know his record,’ ” says O’Connor. "This was not the place or time for campaign messages and Meg did not get it. After hearing all these touching, inspiring messages on how to change the world, by comparison, Meg did not sit well with them at all.”

Other analysts agree that Whitman might be missing a chance for a game-changing decision.

“This is one of the most negative campaigns in American history and California’s is more negative than most,” says Lara Brown, author of “Jockeying for the American Presidency.” “All of America has had it up to here with attack ads and this would be a giant national story how the biggest campaign state in America changed directions.”

Polls suggest that Whitman could benefit from positive press. An Oct. 22 Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll puts Whitman's unfavorability rating at 52 percent, compared with 44 percent for Brown. Asked which candidate was better at telling the truth, 44 percent picked Brown, 24 percent picked Whitman, according to the poll.

“I absolutely think this exchange is going to matter because it is so close to the election,” says Ms. Brown, noting that polls repeatedly show 15 to 20 percent of voters don’t make up their mind until the last 48 hours. Even though Jerry Brown is ahead by 13 points in Times/USC poll, "midterm elections are notoriously hard to predict."

Her advice to Whitman: “Trump him by coming out in writing with a full pledge to go completely positive."

[Editor's note: The dateline in the original version was incorrect.]

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