Photo Credit: David Perez

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown doesn't have much on the line as he faces his Republican challenger in the only gubernatorial debate scheduled so far this election season.

The Democratic incumbent, trying for an unprecedented fourth term, is strongly favored to win and has nearly $23 million in the bank from donors who span the political spectrum.

But the fact that Thursday night's debate is happening at all is something of a win for Republican Neel Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs banker who has struggled for attention this year. Kashkari will have his largest audience yet to push his campaign message that the state's economic recovery has been uneven.

Appearing side-by-side with the popular Democratic governor on a Sacramento stage Thursday night gives Kashkari his first real opportunity to demonstrate his credibility as a challenger.

"For Kashkari, he is the one in the position to benefit the most," said Kim Nalder, director of the Project for an Informed Electorate at California State University, Sacramento. "He did have a campaign ad during the primary season and clearly the newspapers have been talking about him, but most Californians won't really know who he is.

"It may be the first time they start to take a serious look at him."

The hourlong debate starts at 7 p.m. Thursday and will be held in the studios of The California Channel, across the street from the Capitol. Other sponsors are KQED, the Los Angeles Times and Telemundo52.

This year's relatively quiet gubernatorial contest is a sharp contrast with the race for governor four years ago, when Brown sought a comeback to the office he first held from 1975 to 1983 and faced a relentless advertising barrage from former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman.

Whitman, the 2010 Republican nominee, spent $178.5 million, about $144 million of it from her personal fortune, while Brown's campaign spent $36.5 million in his successful bid.

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