Brown's camp announced this morning that the Democrat has accepted an Oct. 2 debate in Fresno, sponsored by the Fresno Bee and Univision. Whitman had already said yes to the faceoff, which now joins a debate on September 28 at UC Davis and an October 12 debate at Dominican University in Marin County.
All well and fine, but no debates in the part of California where most voters live?
"I call on my opponent to stop ignoring Los Angeles," said a statement from Brown this morning. You may remember the veteran pol accepted ten debate offers in all (including one offered by a group of Bay Area news organizations including KQED); Whitman accepted offers from two of those ten. The Fresno debate was the one outstanding offer that Brown had not weighed in on, until now.
The lack of a debate in the southland is interesting, but not exactly without precedent. In 2006, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic nominee Phil Angelides squared off only once -- at CSU Sacramento. And in the 2003 recall, there were only two events featuring all, or most, of the major candidates: another CSU Sacramento event (dubbed by Schwarzenegger as the "Super Bowl" of debates), and an earlier forum in Walnut Creek that all others showed up for, but Schwarzenegger skipped (whose panel of reporters included yours truly).
The last SoCal gubernatorial debate was in 2002, in Los Angeles, between incumbent Gray Davis and GOP challenger Bill Simon. That was also the only debate of that election. In fact, even if the debate calendar ultimately ends at three events in 2010, it will be the most gubernatorial forums since 1998, when Davis and Republican Dan Lungren participated in four debates.
The real question, of course, is whether voters will watch and listen -- and whether they care. Politicos usually argue that in any contest, the first debate is the one that really matters. So expect the drama to be at its zenith three weeks from yesterday, when the two candidates take the stage at UC Davis' Modavi Center.
UPDATE 10:37 a.m. The Whitman campaign's response to Brown's acceptance of the Fresno debate dodges his call for a fourth forum in Los Angeles, focusing instead on how he's running his campaign. "What he hasn’t done is tell the people of California what he plans to do if elected governor," says Whitman spokesperson Andrea Jones Rivera in an email.