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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown and his Republican challenger Neel Kashkari will meet Thursday for what is likely to be the only gubernatorial debate this election season, as a new Field Poll finds the governor has a lead of 16 percentage points among likely voters.
In an unusual twist for a Republican candidate, Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official who helped lead the federal bank bailout, has made poverty and inequality centerpieces of his campaign, even posing as a homeless man on the streets of Fresno to underscore the unevenness of California's economic recovery.
Those topics are likely to figure prominently during the debate at 7 p.m. PDT in a television studio across from the Capitol.
Education reform, the state's $68 billion high-speed rail project, and Brown's realignment law that shifted tens of thousands of criminals to county jails are other possible subjects of disagreement.
Kashkari is expected to capitalize on electric carmaker Tesla's announcement Thursday that it would build its battery plant in Nevada as an example of California's unfriendly business environment.
Brown, 76, is likely to call attention to Kashkari's lead role in overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which bailed out the banks and investment houses that many blamed for creating the recession. Kashkari's campaign notes that the federal government eventually was repaid $435.8 billion after giving out $422.2 billion.
The Democratic governor heads into the debate enjoying relatively high popularity after helping turn years of state budget deficits into surpluses and acting as a check on the Democratic-controlled Legislature. A Field Poll released Thursday found Brown has a lead of 50 percent to 34 percent for Kashkari among likely voters.
Brown is seeking an unprecedented fourth term and has support from a wide array of interests and at least $23 million in his campaign account. Kashkari, 41, reported having $200,000 in his campaign account at the end of June and has collected another $650,000 since then.
The debate was nearly derailed because of a last-minute dispute over seating arrangements. Kashkari's campaign manager, Pat Melton, said he objected to the requirement that the candidates sit on low-backed stools behind lecterns the entire time, and asked that Kashkari be allowed to stand because he has back pain.
Melton said debate organizers rejected the request and threatened Wednesday night to cancel the debate unless Kashkari agreed to remain seated for the duration. The campaign agreed under protest, Melton said.
Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the organizers, said the extremely small studio dictated the production ground rules, including the stools.
The hourlong debate will be held in the studios of The California Channel. Other sponsors are KQED, the Los Angeles Times and Telemundo52.
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