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How Meg Whitman dropped 10 points behind Jerry Brown

Meg Whitman, the Republican nominee for California governor, has been hurt by an undocumented housekeeper scandal, political inexperience, and perhaps even her own attack ads.

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At one point, polls suggested that Whitman was running well among Latinos. Now Latino support for her has plummeted.

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Whitman had a small chance to begin to turn things around this week at Maria Shriver’s “The Women’s Conference” in Long Beach, Calif. In a conversation with Brown and Schwarzenegger, moderator and "Today Show" host Matt Lauer asked Whitman and Brown if they would pledge to end all negative ads in the last week before the election.

The crowd cheered the idea. As the front-runner, threw the ball into Whitman's court: He would if Whitman did. Whitman hedged and was loudly booed.

“She had a chance to catch a Hail Mary pass,” says political author Lara Brown. “But she dropped it.”

Whitman lacks political experience, and the Brown campaign has tried to link her to Schwarzenegger, the one-time outsider whose approval ratings now hover near 23 percent, identical to those of former Gov. Gray Davis when Schwarzenegger replaced him in a 2003 recall election. A new Brown ad, called "Echo," plays on Whitman's similarities to Schwarzenegger by running side-by-side quotes of the two that are almost identical.

The situation puts many California voters in a tough spot. “While not being in love with Jerry Brown, voters feel that at least he knows how to run the governor’s office because he already has,” says Hal Dash, president and CEO of Cerrell & Associates, a Democratic strategy consulting firm. “They don’t have a lot of passion about it, but they want to give the office keys to Brown.”

Can Whitman pull it out? “It appears that Whitman is going to have to come from behind to score what would now have to be termed an upset,” says Matthew Kerbel, a political scientist at Villanova University. “The only way to do this in a state as vast as California is with a massive ad campaign, but Whitman may be suffering diminishing returns because she has saturated the airwaves for so long.”

The Whitman camp claims the latest Field Poll is inaccurate. It has released two separate internal polls which put the race at too close to call.