Gubernatorial debates are typically somewhat splashy, but largely insignificant events. Unlike presidential debates, they do not warrant a live, prime-time broadcast carried by all the networks.
But there can be moments when something that happens during a debate breaks through and becomes a pivotal news story -- withness Bill Simon's stunt in a 2002 debate with Gray Davis in which he asked Davis during the debate whether he'd ever received a campaign contribution inside a state office, received a blanket denial, then released a photograph alleging proof that Davis had accepted a check inside the lieutenant governor's office. The stunt backfired on Simon after it turned out the photo was not taken at a perfectly legal, private fundraising event.
The whole affair revealed Simon as an amateurish bumbler and almost certainly hurt his chances of winning.
It's doubtful that such theatrics will play out Tuesday at the first debate between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman -- but it has the potential to be very important nonetheless. This week's Field Poll showed them tied at 42 percent to 42 percent. And with three debates scheduled over the remaining five weeks before Election Day, a mistake or a homerun from either candidate could help tip the evenly balanced scale.
Unfortunately, none of the three debates will be held in Southern California, so the prospect for a live broadcast on an English-language station in the Los Angeles market is uncertain. Since Univision is the sponsor of an Oct. 2 debate in Fresno, that debate will be broadcast on the Spanish-language network's L.A. affliliate.
The first debate -- Tuesday, on the UC Davis campus -- will be broadcast on Southern California Public Radio. It will also be streamed at debate.ucdavis.edu.