The two candidates are different in almost every way. Brown is the career politician who has already served as governor before, and Whitman is the businesswoman who has never held political office.
Those differences were clear in the hour-long debate, which was held at the University of California, Davis.
The state's ongoing budget battle got a lot of attention during the debate. Brown, the current state attorney general, seemed to be a little more at ease as he handled questions about the state's budget.
"I have a very specific plan, and it's not to give a $5 billion tax break to myself, much less the billionaires and the millionaires. My plan is to invest in clean energy, the green tech of the future," he said.
Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, was disciplined and kept close to her talking points. The 54-year-old stressed her experience running a major corporation and the need to make California the first choice for businesses.
"If we can eliminate the factory tax, that would mean more jobs, more companies in California, so we'll have higher tax revenues. The truth is we are not competitive to neighboring states," she said.
Whitman also said she wants to increase the state worker retirement age from 55 to 65. Brown agreed pension reform is needed.
The two candidates also sparred over the death penalty.
"I pledge to the people of this state I will faithfully carry out our law on executions, and I will do it with compassion, but I will do it with great fidelity to rule of law," Brown said.
But Whitman challenged Brown's stance.
"In the last week he's had a little bit of a change of heart on the death penalty, saying he's not morally opposed to it, but for 40 years, he has been morally opposed to it," she said.
If the polls mean anything, the fight was close. An exclusive Eyewitness News poll conducted by SurveyUSA shows voters are evenly divided.
Neither candidate made any major mistakes during Tuesday night's debate. The two will spar again this weekend in Fresno.
In an exclusive Eyewitness News poll conducted by SurveyUSA, prospective voters were asked the following questions:
Did you see or hear tonight's debate between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown?
- Yes 33 percent
- No 66 percent
- Not sure 2 percent
Who won the debate? Meg Whitman? Jerry Brown? Or was there no clear winner?
- Meg Whitman 37 percent
- Jerry Brown 40 percent
- No clear winner 23 percent
Which of these statements describes you: One: I was going to vote for Brown and I will STILL vote for Brown. Two: I was going to vote for Whitman, and I will STILL vote for Whitman. Three: I was going to vote for Brown, but NOW I will vote for Whitman. Four: I was going to vote for Whitman, but NOW I will vote for Brown.
- Brown/Brown 41 percent
- Whitman/Whitman 26 percent
- Brown/Whitman 12 percent
- Whitman/Brown 12 percent
- Not Sure 8 percent