The Good, The Bad, The Debatable

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Okay, it's over. The one and only debate between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides is now one for the history books.

56 minutes later, it's hard to argue that average voters really know much more about the two major party candidates who want to be sworn in as governor in January. But many of the questions were asked, each man did their best to duck and dodge, and the usual circus atmosphere surrounded the debate site away from the TV cameras.

So without further ado, some observations about things that won't make tomorrow morning's headlines.

Oddest Moment: Well, the beginning was certainly odd. The debate organizers had decided to do away with the traditional opening statement... and yet, that's exactly what the audience got, even though the question was about public school funding. Governor Schwarzenegger even went so far as to talk about the recall (3 years ago today), to thank his wife and kids. Angelides followed suit. And moderator Stan Statham was left to state the obvious: "It sounded to me like we had opening statements." Indeed.

Runner-up: the frequent mentions of the mysterious "focus group" assembled to both choose the questions and tell the moderator in his ear to move along. I briefly saw the group camped out upstairs, and they were kind of the wizards behind the curtain. At one point, after a particularly unsurprising set of comments, Statham flatly announced that the focus group had told him "they're tired of this topic."

New Stuff: Well, there were a few things mentioned that we haven't heard about in the race for governor so far. In response to a discussion about levees, Phil Angelides highlighted the governor's action several months ago to replace the state Reclamation Board with new members-- members critics charge are overly sympathetic to the building industry, which sparred with the former members about new housing in vicinity of Central Valley levees.

The governor also made an interesting comment in regards to his failed 2005 special election agenda. After admitting he had made a mistake, he said something that might raise the ire of of the labor union group that fought his proposals. "There were good ideas there," he said, "but I didn't bring legislators on board." Hinting that his tactics were to blame, not the proposals themselves, isn't something that he says very often.

And... the governor also attempted to throw a lasso around Angelides and tie him to Gray Davis, making the case that Angelides was treasurer during the darkest hours of the Davis administration. "Where were you?," asked the governor.

Best Sideshow: Well, this one is always found in the media room... which ends up doubling as the "spin room" (and the location I'm filing this from). Over the course of the hourlong event, 13 instant press releases landed beside my laptop, as both campaign tried to instantly spin what had just been said. In truth, almost all of them look like they were written a long time before the event. And just in case you're curious... 9 were from Team Arnold, 4 from Team Angelides.

Runner-up: the post-debate questions asked of U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-SF), who came to the media room to pump up Angelides... but who ended up fielding questions about the scandal back in D.C. over a GOP congressman and his contact with congressional pages. It was not, as you might imagine, what the Angelides camp had in mind when they invited her.

Did I Hear That Right?: Was it just me, or did Schwarzenegger ask Angelides near the end of the debate to tape a TV commercial with him, in support of the infrastructure bonds? Now that would be interesting.

Saw That One Coming: You could almost hear a "here it comes!" in the media room just before Schwarzenegger's back-handed labeling of Angelides as a liberal... "I feel a little bit like I'm having dinner with Uncle Teddy [Kennedy] at Thanksgiving." We all knew he had at least one of these quips in his pocket. By the way, we were also keeping count of how many times Schwarzenegger mentioned Angelides and taxes (unofficial count: 7) and how many times Angelides mentioned George W. Bush (unofficial count: 8).

The Winner: Come on, you didn't really expect me to pick one, did you? Let's put it this way... there was no obvious loser, no undeniable dust-up or flub that would leave one man trying to explain what he meant for days. Draw your own conclusions, then, about what that means for the last four weeks of this contest.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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