Kathleen Brown enjoyed a big lead over then-Gov. Wilson when she began her 1994 run for the governorship, but Wilson hammered her on capital punishment and won in a landslide.
"Kathleen Brown is against the death penalty," one Wilson TV spot said, "even for drive-by killings … even for carjackings that take innocent lives. Kathleen Brown has the same position on the death penalty as her brother, Jerry Brown, who appointed dangerously lenient judges like Chief Justice Rose Bird, who voted to overturn 68 out of 68 death sentences."
During this year's first debate, Whitman (whose campaign chairman is ex-Gov. Wilson), channeled the ad, saying, "Jerry has a long, 40-year record of being quite liberal on crime. It started with the appointment of Rose Bird, who was the (California) Supreme Court justice who tried to overturn the death penalty almost 64 times. She ultimately was recalled from office."
Whitman hit Brown again on the issue in their third debate this week, implying she sees it as a late campaign weapon, a la 1994.
The 2010 gubernatorial race is more or less tied. With capital punishment still popular with voters and Whitman facing fallout from employing and firing an illegal immigrant, she's playing the death penalty card that's damaged Browns in years past.