Will Brown aide's slur of Meg Whitman tip California governor's race?

Recent polls had shown Jerry Brown opening a slight lead over Meg Whitman. Putting him on the defensive could give her a boost.

Jae C. Hong/AP/File
Meg Whitman was the target of 'salty' language by a Jerry Brown campaign aide in a voice mail released Thursday.

Someone from Jerry Brown’s camp has been caught on tape using an extremely inelegant term to refer to opponent Meg Whitman. Will this remark make a difference in the already-heated California gubernatorial race?

Well, we won’t know for some time whether it has an effect on the polls. The Brown-Whitman contest is already a boiling cauldron of charges and counter-charges, so the airing of the slur may make the tone of the campaign only marginally harsher.

But this slip by a Brown aide may give Whitman a much-needed chance to get past the issue of whether she knowingly employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper. For the media there’s a new flap in town – what did Brown know about the use of this language, and how did he respond to it?

That might push the controversy between Whitman and her ex-employee, Nicky Diaz Santillan, out of the headlines for the moment. And with the election now only weeks away, and Democrat Brown opening a slight lead in the polls, even that slight respite might help Whitman, the GOP candidate and ex-eBay CEO.

The Brown aide’s words were “an insult to both Meg Whitman and to the women of California,” said Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei in a statement.

What happened exactly? What we know so far is this: on Thursday night the Los Angeles Times released a recording of a voice mail message left by Jerry Brown for a police union official sometime in September. Brown was trying to win the union’s endorsement.

After speaking his piece, Brown thinks he has hung up, but the voice mail continues to record. Brown worries aloud that Whitman will get the nod over him, due to her position on the protection of public employee pensions.

Then in the background, an unidentified person can be heard saying, “What about saying she’s a whore?”

A burst of sounds ensues, so it’s not clear whether Brown reacts to those words directly. But according to the Los Angeles Times he does say something like, “Well, I’m going to use that. It proves you’ve cut a secret deal to protect the pensions.”

The Brown campaign has acknowledged the authenticity of the tape and apologized to Whitman and anyone else who was offended by what a spokesman called “salty” language.

For Whitman, the opportunity to put Brown on the defensive could not have come at a better time. Polls in recent days have shown Brown opening up a small but significant lead. A Rasmussen survey now has Brown up 49 to 44 percent, for example.

The union Brown was wooing, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, ended up endorsing Whitman.

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