Thursday, April 29, 2010




On the day he officially filed papers to run for his old office as governor, Jerry Brown predicted he would soon trail in many polls.

“When you spend $50 million or so, you will move the polls at least some,” he observed. “I’m not someone who says, ‘I have a billion dollars and I want to be governor.’ I haven’t lived the corporate life, flying around in private jets. But I believe I can get my message out.”

Brown was right about the polls. The almost $60 million spent so far by the campaign of former eBay executive Meg Whitman did briefly put her ahead of Brown in several polls, by margins ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent.

Brown’s strategy of spending little and not campaigning worked in the non-run for the Democratic nomination, as his challengers self-destructed one by one. He knows Whitman won’t go away so quietly if she wins the Republican nomination to take him on. He describes her seven-month (so far) barrage of ubiquitous radio and television advertising as “basically invading the minds of the people.”

Whitman would say nothing specific in response, her press secretary Sarah Pompei offering only that “Voters are not looking for someone with a failed record who raises taxes to do anything.”

While some Brown supporters worry that he’s been too quiet and too reluctant to spend any of the war chest of about $16 million he now has on hand, his campaign shows no signs of fear.

In fact, campaign manager Steve Glazer maintains Whitman hasn’t gotten much for all her money, the same view often propounded by Whitman’s Republican rival Steve Poizner.

Glazer knows all about the poll margins Whitman has recently enjoyed over both Brown and Poizner, the state insurance commissioner who is also primarily a self-funded candidate.

But, he says, “All she’s really done with all that advertising is move her name recognition from 10 percent to 60 percent. The same polls that show her ahead also show only 8 percent of the voters are firmly committed to her, while 13 percent are firmly committed to Jerry. So more people have strong positive feelings for Jerry than for Whitman, in spite of all that money. That’s one reason we feel OK even though she might be ahead of us on primary day.”

Glazer, a longtime Brown loyalist who drew no salary for the first few months of this year’s campaign, echoes his boss by predicting that even though Brown will eventually spend only about one-fifth of the $150 million Whitman has said she’s willing to give her own campaign, “We’ll have the resources to get our message out.”

For one thing, he notes, during the fall season when voters are paying close attention, there will be so much on-air advertising for so many candidates and ballot propositions that no one will be able to dominate the airwaves the way Whitman has so far. Even so, Whitman (or the almost equally wealthy Poizner) will be able to pour an endless flow of slick and artful fliers into every mailbox in California, a tide Brown hopes most folks will see as pure junk mail.

Glazer maintains all this will just make voters even more cynical than they already are, claiming a cynical electorate would work to Brown’s advantage. “These days, people have to think you’re real in the end. And Meg is the original Madison Avenue candidate, since all most people know about her is what she’s told them in her advertising. Remember, this woman marketed Mr. Potato Head when she was at the Hasbro toy company.”

All of which does not assuage the fretting of some Democrats. Longtime campaign honcho Clint Reilly, one manager of the failed 1994 campaign for governor by Brown’s sister Kathleen, saw parallels between that year and today’s scene in a recent essay written for a liberal web site.

“We faced a Hobson’s choice that year: Spend money (against incumbent Republican Gov. Pete Wilson) during the summer and perhaps catch up, or conserve money for the October endgame,” Reilly wrote, suggesting Jerry Brown will face precisely the same choice after the June primary.

But this year’s Brown’s campaign will have much more money on hand after June 8 than his sister’s did. Enough to mount a bit of an ad blitz of its own later that month if Brown is so inclined.

But Brown and Glazer insist they’re not worried, even though they realize they could trail by five to 10 points as June begins. “There is no parallel (to 1994) and we won’t be passive,” Glazer said. “We’re not going to project our planned course publicly yet, but we will do what we need to do.”

Even before he made headlines by calling for three-way pre-primary debates between himself, Whitman and Poizner, Brown insisted that “I’m prepared for debates. This will not be just a campaign of carefully crafted television commercials.”

Time will tell if he’s right.

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

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