After a combative debate between Gov. Jerry Brown and GOP challenger Neel Kashkari with no real knockout blows, lawmakers on both sides were quick to declare their respective candidates the winner Thursday night.
“Hands down. Clearly Gov. Brown won,” said state Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), the incoming Senate leader. “You’re going to say that’s the expected partisan position to take. But to me, the contrast couldn’t be more clear for Californians. The governor’s message of economic inclusivity, of diversity — that’s a message that’s resonant with the core values of California.”
De León said Brown has a record of economic recovery, citing the state’s rebounding job numbers and increased minimum wage. He dinged Kashkari as focusing too much on talking points and having a “hyper” delivery.
FOR THE RECORD
10:27 p.m.: A previous version of this story incorrectly used the term “economic exclusivity” in a quote attributed to state Sen. Kevin de León. The correct term is “economic inclusivity.”
His “over-aggressive, stunt-driven campaign is simply not going to resonate with everyday Californians,” De León said.
But Republicans said Kashkari’s high-octane approach was a good thing.
“Kashkari nailed it. He was energetic, he had real passion behind what he was saying,” said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore). “He did a fabulous job of showing that he’s a different kind of leader.”
Melendez, echoing Kashkari’s point that the state still lags in economic recovery, said, “Regardless of what the governor wants us to believe, California is far from being back.”
Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside), one of the first lawmakers to back Kashkari in the primary, said the GOP candidate did a good job presenting a new side of the party. The former Treasury Department official departed from Republican orthodoxy by backing same-sex marriage and saying that he would sign a bill, as Brown did, to enable people in the country illegally to get driver’s licenses.
“Neel is the change agent. He has a vision of being fiscally responsible … and he has a social conscience,” Chavez said.
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna University, said he’d give points to both contenders: Kashkari for his direct delivery, Brown for his zingers.
But noting that the debate aired the same time as the Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks NFL football game and was not on network television, he said the debate “obviously doesn’t change the course of the campaign, because practically no voters saw it.”
“Where this might help is bolstering Kashkari’s standing among Republican activists and contributors. If they were watching, they probably liked what they saw,” Pitney said, adding that “Brown remains the heavy, heavy favorite.”
Kashkari’s rival in the gubernatorial primary, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), took a break from watching his beloved Packers to view a portion of the debate. He said he was struck by how similar the two candidates appeared.
“They’re both very wonkish,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly praised Kashkari’s answer on immigration, in which he said unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border illegally must be sent home. But he said that those who supported Donnelly’s campaign may be turned off by Kashkari’s assertion that he believed in the science of climate change.
“For a huge contingent of people that follow me, that’s a keystone issue,” Donnelly said. “[Kashkari] is on the exact same side as Jerry Brown.”