Jerry Brown didn't start running ads seriously until pretty late in the election - or maybe it just felt that way because Whitman spent so early and so heavily. Regardless, Brown's strategy seems to have worked. This one minute ad, "Echo," has been in heavy rotation on TV since mid-October. It's received a fair amount of national press as well. The concept is pretty simple, but the end result is devastating to Whitman. I think it's quite fair, exemplifies the Brown critique of Whitman, and is the most effective political ad in California this election cycle:
Brown has been pretty sharp in most of the debates, and his campaign cleverly seized on Whitman's own words to hurry out this ad – "Why I came to California":
This ad, "Positive Finish," is also quite savvy. This exchange definitely made the local news:
TPM has more on this ad. There's also a one minute version that's even more effective, with Brown coming off as upbeat and gracious while Whitman is left squirming. Brown even posted a five minute version to show the exchange in full context. Whitman appears more reasonable in it, I'd say, but Brown also comes off well by coming to her defense at the end, and seeming loose and confident.
Personally, I hate "pledges" sought by reporters, which are almost always inane and seem designed to make headlines and little else. This one is no exception. Who gives a damn about whether an ad is "negative" or not? What matters is whether it's accurate (and honest in terms of context). So while I think Whitman would be a terrible governor – Schwarzenegger without the schmoozing skills, probably – I'm a bit sympathetic to her here on the general issue. That's not to say all the ads from her and her allies have been accurate and honest, because they certainly haven't, and like Fiorina, Whitman has offered mostly sound bites versus good policies. Consequently, my sympathy only goes so far.
On the politics, realistically, being down in the polls as much as she has been, Whitman's only chance of closing the gap was probably to go negative, even though it was a long shot. So a "no negative ad" pledge worked to Brown's advantage. Plus, Brown sharply picked up on Whitman's hedging, and so his offer was smart, allowing him to come off looking as the more honorable person. Hey, maybe he meant it without much calculation, since Brown favors the disarmingly candid response at times. I'm guessing part of it was his natural personality, and some of it was political savvy. In any case, Brown has played things well in the final stretch.
No matter who's governor, the job is going to be very tough because of California's ridiculous structural problems (a 2/3rds majority needed to raise taxes and an obstructionist GOP). However, Schwarzenegger was rarely willing to push his own party much, and consistently worked to protect rich plutocrats. Whitman would have been exactly the same on that front. Although she campaigned as an outsider, like really all "responsible" Republican candidates, she's an eager class warrior for the establishment. I'm not sure how much Brown can actually get done, but at least he can try.