Friday, October 30, 2009




The most unusual thing about the 2010 race for governor of California, the campaign that's been proceeding in under-the-radar stealth style for much of the past year, is that the current leader is the one putative candidate who has yet to stage a single public campaign event.

That would be Jerry Brown, the attorney general and ex-governor who wants another crack at the job that was America's second most visible and powerful political role even before current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took it to new levels of stardom.

Rivals abound. On the Democratic side there are San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and, maybe, Los Angeles County Congresswoman Jane Harman. The three major Republicans include two big-money Silicon Valley products and another from the same area who lacks the large war chest. Those would be former eBay chief Meg Whitman, current Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell, whose long resume includes stints as state budget director, congressman, Stanford law professor and UC Berkeley business school dean.

Four of those five others have been all over California for many months. Newsom has staged what seem like countless "town hall" events speaking to the Democratic faithful. Whitman has poured about $20 million of her own cash into her campaign and met with business groups and Republican clubs from Redding to Riverside and beyond. The intellectual Poizner attends every GOP event he can find, while the classy Campbell is as accessible to voters and reporters as any candidate in modern memory.

Through it all, Brown has stayed almost silent about his ambitions. Having rehabilitated himself well beyond the "Gov. Moonbeam" tag hung on him about 30 years ago by the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, he was an ultra-pragmatic mayor of Oakland and now has a workmanlike record as attorney general.

He may be 71, and Newsom campaign adviser Garry South may call him "a retread," but he's got some huge advantages.

For one, there's his age and long record. South likes to observe no one under 50 could possibly ever have voted for Brown in his previous gubernatorial incarnation. He suggests Newsom will capture the youth vote.

There's one problem with this. Early projections indicate that only about 6 percent of 2010 Democratic primary voters are likely to be under 30, while about 38 percent will be over 60. Advantage: Brown.

Then there's fund-raising. Many candidates quake in constant fear of a billionaire candidate rising from the weeds to take them on. That was the outlook of ex-Gov. Gray Davis, who continued raising money furiously against such a possibility even when he was quite secure, thus giving himself an aura of corruption that made his fear a self-fulfilling prophecy when Schwarzenegger rose up in the 2003 recall election.

Brown operates from no such fear. Until early October, his fund-raising committee was not even officially geared toward seeking the governor's office, which imposed a limit of about $6,000 on what any single donor could give during either a primary or general election season. Still, he raised more than $8 million during the first half of the year.

That sum dwarfed the $1.2 million gathered by Newsom. It also leaves Brown free to go back to his donor base now that's he's got an "exploratory committee" for the governor's race, with each of those $6,000 contributions able to morph quickly into more than $25,000.

If he raises four times as much in the next few months as he did during those six months, as this implies he could, he will have well over the $30 million generally needed to run a credible top-of-ticket race in this state.

For even if Whitman were to kick another $20 million or $40 million into her campaign kitty, there are still limits on the amount of advertising time anyone can buy. There are, after all, only so many TV commercial slots.

Meanwhile, all the money Whitman and Poizner and Newsom have burned up flying around the state, hiring more and more staff and buttonholing everyone they can find has not done them much good. Campbell, for instance, runs about as strongly as any Republican even though he has a fraction of the others' funds.

All the Republicans as well as both potential Democratic rivals to Brown trail him by substantial margins in every early poll.

So, a year before it will be decided, this begins to take on the look of a classic hare-and-hounds contest.

Or, in an expression sometimes attributed to Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland fame, the faster Brown's rivals go, the behinder they seem to get.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

No comments:

Post a Comment