Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Meg Whitman Declines Jerry Brown Challenge to Stop Negative Ads

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Meg Whitman Declines Jerry Brown Challenge to Stop Negative Ads

Article excerpt

At a women's conference, moderator Matt Lauer challenges California's gubernatorial candidates to stop negative ads. Jerry Brown said he would if Meg Whitman did. Whitman skirted the issue.

Slipping in the polls and with one week until Election Day, California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman upset a boisterous crowd by ignoring a pledge to stop running negative ads.

Ms. Whitman shared the stage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and her Democratic challenger, Jerry Brown, at the Women's Conference in Long Beach, Calif., Tuesday. In response to a moderator's challenge to the candidates that they "drop all negative ads up to election day," Mr. Brown responded: "If Meg wants to do that, I'll be glad to do that."

Ms. Whitman said that "negative ads are in the eye of the beholder" and received boos from the crowd of 14,000 women in attendance.

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The decision could prove costly, says Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.

"This was a largely Republican-leaning group and when [Whitman] refused to take the pledge, they got surly," she says.

But moderator Matt Lauer, a host of NBC's "Today Show," put Whitman in a tough spot - something he acknowledged by saying he would give the candidates 24 hours to make a decision.

First, the forum at the annual conference traditionally is not confrontational or political, but rather focuses on leadership issues. Indeed, for 40 minutes Tuesday, it had dwelt on questions like, "Who's your greatest influence?" and "Who do you call in a crisis?"

Moreover, media experts say negative ads often do work, and with Whitman trailing in the polls and running short on time, she would be loath to abandon them. The question played right into Brown's hands.

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"Matt Lauer was not giving an inch, Arnold was loving it, and Jerry Brown was keeping quiet," says Ms. …

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