Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown on Saturday challenged his potential GOP rivals to an unprecedented bipartisan debate before the state's June primary, giving a resounding response to criticism that he has been slow to enter the political fight.
Outgunned by the personal wealth of Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, Brown told cheering delegates at the state party's annual convention that the campaign for governor cannot be purchased with millions in television ads.
Instead, he called for an "honest, prime-time" three-way debate before the June 8 primary.
"Let's hear the different ideas," Brown said. "The key here, is this a democracy?"
Poizner, the state's insurance commissioner, was quick to accept, saying he was "willing to debate anywhere, anytime."
Whitman's campaign issued a statement saying it was "open to considering the proposal."
The former eBay chief executive has poured $59 million from her personal fortune into the race. Much of the money has been used to blanket the airwaves with television and radio ads and collect a stable of experienced political consultants.
Whitman and Poizner have debated previously, but it would be highly unusual to conduct a bipartisan debate before winners are selected in the primary. Brown faces no serious challenger for the Democratic nomination.
With California mired in recession and perpetual budget deficits, Brown said all three leading candidates owe it to voters to stake out their positions and debate in public.
"These are not ordinary times," he said. "We face an extraordinary crisis."