SACRAMENTO, Calif. | She uses a chartered jet; he flies Southwest. Her mentor was Mitt Romney; he worked for Mother Teresa. She pays her chief campaign consultant $90,000 a month; his worked for free most of last year.
Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown are fighting for the same job, but that’s where the similarities end for the two candidates running for California governor.
Come November, voters in the financially troubled state will have two stark choices: the billionaire former eBay CEO who has never before run for office and rarely even voted, or the heir of a political dynasty who is famous for his frugality and once studied Zen Buddhism.
The deep differences in their lives and personalities will do more than ensure a lively election season. They also will give both sides ample material for attacks.
Mr. Brown already is trying to undercut Mrs. Whitman’s message by assaulting her Wall Street connections and lavish campaign spending, including “white glove service” on private jets and fancy fundraisers in Beverly Hills.
On primary night, he likened Mrs. Whitman to the current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like Mrs. Whitman, he campaigned as an outsider with business savvy, yet he has failed to deliver the budget and tax reforms he promised.
“It’s not enough for someone rich and restless to look in the mirror one morning and decide, ‘I want to be governor of California.’ We tried that. It didn’t work,” said Mr. Brown, the current state attorney general.
Mrs. Whitman’s campaign is trying to offer California a “new beginning,” in a not-so-subtle jab at Mr. Brown’s four-decade-long political career. She has characterized her 72-year-old opponent as a man without fresh ideas who will serve organized labor and other entrenched interests in Sacramento.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Can elections be bought?’ The answer is, elections can’t be bought, but candidates can and Jerry Brown is bought and paid for by the unions,” Mrs. Whitman, 53, said a day after her primary victory.
Mrs. Whitman, the Republican, grew up in an upper-middle-class household on Long Island, N.Y., and attended Princeton and Harvard before starting a corporate career at Proctor & Gamble, Disney and Hasbro. She brought her executive pedigree to eBay in 1998 and helped the online auction site mature into a multibillion-dollar company. The company made her a billionaire, and she now lives in Atherton, a Silicon Valley suburb that is among the state’s top five wealthiest communities.
She once told Fortune magazine that others would probably describe her as “frumpy,” but she’s comfortable in the business world.
Despite her wealth, Mrs. Whitman thanks her mother for instilling a sense of frugality. In her book, “The Power of Many,” she recalled that as a child, the Whitman family would vacation on St. John in the Caribbean by camping in a toolshed - paying the owner for the privilege - when they couldn’t get a campsite.
She wrote that as a consultant at Bain & Company, where she worked with Mr. Romney, she “found it fun to ferret out waste.” She got her first taste of politics when Mr. Romney ran for president.
Mrs. Whitman now pledges to root out government waste, specifically by eliminating 40,000 state workers.
Mrs. Whitman’s enormous campaign apparatus could not be more different from Democrat Brown’s approach. His chief campaign consultant was unpaid for most of last year and still makes $75,000 a month less than Whitman’s adviser. Mr. Brown frequently talks with reporters one-on-one - not always to his advantage.
He recently bumped into a reporter for a San Francisco radio station while jogging in the Oakland hills. He later was quoted on the reporter’s blog as making a comparison between Mrs. Whitman’s ability to spend unlimited sums to promote her message and Nazi propaganda.
Mr. Brown has assailed Mrs. Whitman’s poor voting record, noting that she lacked any significant interest in community service until deciding to run for governor.
By contrast, he has a deep political pedigree. Mr. Brown is the son of a former California governor, Edmund “Pat” Brown, who is credited with shaping the state’s higher-education system into a national model and building its water system.
Mr. Brown’s experience in statewide office dates to 1970, when he was elected secretary of state. He won the first of his two terms as governor four years later, becoming one of California’s youngest chief executives at age 36.
While governor, he was famous for his austerity and for what some considered his “Gov. Moonbeam” ideas. He opted to live in a one-room apartment instead of the governor’s mansion and drove around in a 1974 Plymouth Satellite instead of a chauffeured limousine.
In addition to making three tries for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president and one for U.S. Senate, he spent four years in a California seminary, went abroad to study Zen Buddhism in Japan and ministered to the ill with Mother Teresa in India.
He later had a stint as a talk-radio host and became a tough-on-crime mayor of Oakland, one of California’s roughest cities.
He married his longtime girlfriend, Anne Gust, a former Gap Inc. general counsel, in 2005. She has acted as unofficial chief strategist in his campaign.
Mr. Brown knows his past has baggage.
“You can find a number of statements that would not be helpful to my campaign this November,” Mr. Brown told the Los Angeles Times in declaring his candidacy earlier this year. “But so what? I’ve lived a life. I am not some guy who has been in some plastic bubble that has no contact with the hurly-burly of human existence. I’ve lived and I’ve seen and I learn, and yes, I can change my mind.”