The Honorable Jerry Brown is one of those larger-than-life politicians with a smaller-than-life persona that has served as the political wallpaper in many of our mental kitchens. While I may have still been watching the later episodes of Land of the Lost on Saturday mornings when he began his ascent, the question for the youngest governor in California history and perhaps the oldest, come November 2nd is this: Can he marry his experience with the energy and will needed to win against a well-funded, fresh-faced opponent?
Brown faces the monied juggernaut of Meg Whitman, the Republican nominee who has spent almost $100 million of her own money thus far in an attempt to secure -- a few say purchase -- the brass ring of California politics: the governorship. I am mindful of what George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." In politics, we all have our 1st amendment rights but some seem to be more equal when backed by an endless stream of Benjamins.
What Brown does bring to the gubernatorial race is experience at running state government, a record of problem-solving and an ability -- to use an idiom popularized by Brown himself during his presidential runs -- to live off the land. He also has the famous "frugality" he prides himself on and a last name that is as close as you get to Golden State political royalty.
But as L.A. Times reporter Seema Mehta points out, "The combination of Whitman's wealth and a distinct lack of energy by Brown is making California Democrats nervous about their candidate's prospects in the fall." And well they should be. If there is any established rule in politics, it is that nothing is inevitable. Waiting to throw a punch, relying on fading memories of the electorate, and hoping for younger voters to stay in the blue column simply will not suffice.
Below is unseen footage of Attorney General Brown in Howard Dean-mode at a National Latino Congreso here in Los Angeles, almost two years ago to the day. He appears to be quite capable of turning up the heat expenditure as well as hitting his targets without reservation or qualification. To be sure, Brown was speaking to a like-minded audience but his passion, self-deprecating humor and grasp of the issues should be reassuring.
The doldrums of summer can be the enemy of campaigns despite all the barbeques and parades candidates may participate in. The electorate's attention is focused elsewhere and the 24/7 media beast must still be fed. Upticks in shark attacks or other sensational news do not provide enough satiety and a relatively minor item can unhinge or define a campaign. I shared this with Whitman Policy Advisor, Rob Stutzman, on Off the Presses last Thursday and asked him if he thought her voting record and reported shoving incident might qualify and perhaps gain traction. He seemed unconcerned, however, that any of it was going to matter in November and that voters were more worried about unemployment and the larger issues facing the state.
It is safe to say that Brown will not be able to match the finances of Whitman Warbucks. His game plan includes relying upon his storied last name, tapping into the reformist mood of the electorate and playing to his base of Democrats -- while also shoring up support among independents (roughly 20% of the electorate). While there should be nothing inevitable about his candidacy, he has the energy and the experience to run a great campaign. Brown just needs to show a little more of what the late Garfield High School teacher, Jaime Escalante, referred to as ganas -- will, desire or motivation.
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