Attempting to send a message to likely Democratic opponent Kathleen Brown, Governor Wilson will debate his closest primary challenger, 32-year-old theoretical physicist Ron Unz, today in a confrontation to be broadcast on KGO radio.
Defying the conventional political wisdom that incumbents agree to debates only when forced to, Wilson will take on the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who showed a surprising 30 percent support in the last Field Poll.
The hastily arranged debate will pit Unz, a political unknown, against Wilson in a radio contest that Wilson aide Dan Schnur said is intended to show that the governor wants to debate likely challenger Brown ”early and often” throughout the fall campaign.
Wilson’s agreement to debate came amid charges by Unz campaign manager Lorelei Kinder and Brown spokesman John Whitehurst that Wilson decided to confront Unz directly because of the polls.
”Their polling must be showing what our polling is showing — that Unz is gaining on him,” Kinder said.
Making a similar point, Whitehurst said, ”Wilson is debating Unz because their race is closer than the Democratic primary, and the people of his own party are very upset.”
Whitehurst and Schnur then traded broadsides, with Whitehurst saying that ”maybe Wilson will use the debate as an opportunity to explain his failures on the economy and crime. Maybe tomorrow he’ll finally apologize to the voters for being the only state in the nation not on the road to recovery.”
Schnur defended the governor’s unusual move, saying that ”Pete Wilson has always believed in debating in statewide races,” then adding that the governor is eager to debate Brown after watching her perform during three Democratic primary debates this week.
”Kathleen Brown is the Stepford candidate,” Schnur said. ”She is the most overprogrammed, overscripted and overhandled candidate for statewide office in recent California political history. After watching her, the governor is champing at the bit to debate her.”
During a debate among the Democratic candidates for governor on Wednesday in Southern California, Brown said she looks forward to a debate with Wilson.
Wilson and Unz will debate in an unusual style. Unz will be in a Los Angeles radio studio with KABC radio host Michael Jackson, and Wilson will be debating by telephone from Phoenix, where he is attending a conference of border governors.
Today’s debate comes as Unz has begun airing a new 60-second radio ad across the state calling for an end to ”affirmative action, bilingual education and multiculturalism.”
”Past racial discrimination was wrong, but two wrongs don’t make a right,” Unz says in the ad.