Ace Smith is California’s top political consultant, representing many of the state’s top Democrats.

But watching one of his clients debate opponents is often torture.

That’s because he has a tendency to push candidates to keep thing simple. One candidate who Smith once represented described his method as honing everything down to three talking points, which are repeated ad nauseum.

This may be good political advice, but it also makes debates useless and unproductive. California remains a big, fascinating and complicated place, but people can’t connect to its issues and challenges when politicians speak about it in simple and boring ways.

You could see the Ace effect in Kamala Harris’ debate with Loretta Sanchez in 2016. Harris is an appealing presence with a wickedly good sense of humor. But she kept repeating the same talking points until it felt like she was channeling Marco Rubio. And she was completely out of her depth when presented with a foreign policy question for which she had no talking points.

Going into this week’s California governor’s debate, I was dreading what Smith might be doing to his client Gavin Newsom.

Whether you like him or not, Newsom is an incredibly interesting politician to hear speak. He says many things, very smoothly and compellingly. He makes complicated points. He can be funny and unpredictable. He goes off script all the time. And he’s great at making interesting connections between different policies, places, and facts.

Basically, he’s a political consultant’s nightmare.

And here’s the good news: the Newsom who showed up to the debate was the real Gavin Newsom, and not a Smith-simplified version. He did a little repetition, going to a vague talking point on values, when attacked. But otherwise, he was all over the map, making connections, and speaking a little too fast and making too complicated points for probably many in the audience.

It was good to see.

Because Newsom is the prohibitive favorite to be the next governor. And the real question is whether his broad establishment means he has been captured, by interests like the teachers’ and nurses’ unions. To succeed as a governor, he would have to upset his patrons. But is he too much in the cage already?

So far, he has managed to stay out of Ace Smith’s cage. Which is a good start.