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The top bosses at California's major political parties squared off today at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon on which party will wake up Nov. 3 as the winner.

California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring pointed to national and state trends that he said show political winds in the GOP's sails, including leads in polling on generic congressional ballots, President Barack Obama's declining approval rating, gubernatorial elections in West Virginia and New Jersey and the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts.

"The political jet streams will be in our favor," he said, pointing to GOP victories in 1994 as an example of how the national political environment can affect California races.

But state Democratic Party Chairman John Burton wasn't so sure.

"Changes of winds and winds of change, who the hell knows where the wind goes. It tends to change," Burton said. "Do you ever watch the weather report? The wind's coming here, but they go there?"

Burton took shots at what he characterized as a GOP ticket made up of flawed candidates, homing in on the far-from-perfect voting records of gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina and secretary of state hopeful Damon Dunn.

He also defended Democrat Jerry Brown's record against attacks lobbed by the Whitman campaign, saying Brown should "debate" solo if Whitman won't "come out of hiding" and join him at the 10 debates he has agreed to attend.

"In Meg's (place) we're going to have an empty throne because it seems like she feels entitled to the governorship by virtue of the money she's made in life," he said.

But Nehring said his party would be boosted by the diversity and business bona fides of the ticket, casting the campaign as "the party of the past vs.the party of the future."

"Barbara Boxer was elected in 1982 when the 'A Team' was a TV show, not a movie. Jerry Brown's voter registration card, the thing was written in Roman numerals," he said. "This is not a team that's going to be able to say we're about change and moving in a different direction."

Nehring also dismissed claims that Brown's frequent off-the-cuff comments represent a more transparent campaign strategy. "Quirkiness is not a strategy," he said. "It's not working for him so far."

Also a frequent topic: the resources raised, and needed, to run the high-profile races.

Burton repeatedly cast Whitman's efforts as "writing checks" instead of campaigning, saying her ability to self-fund would be impossible to match but not impossible to beat.

"Where are we going to get the money to compete? We couldn't do this without robbing a bank," Burton said. "It just becomes up to the people to figure out who's real and who isn't."

Nehring countered that independent expenditure campaigns funded largely by labor unions could level the field.

"The bottom line is that both campaigns are going to have the opportunity to get their message out," he said.


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