10/16/2014 12:57 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2014

Jerry Brown Cruises (and Makes an Adjustment) As Kashkari Flails Strangely


With just under three weeks left till the November 4th election, Jerry Brown is driving toward a big win in his quest for a record fourth term as governor of California.

On what may be a very bad night for Democrats nationally, Brown is poised to win very big for the biggest prize of all.

If Brown were 10 years younger, or the culture were free from ageist prejudices, he would be pretty well positioned to become the only member of his generation to win the presidency. Right now, it's looking like the first generation in American history not to produce a president of the United States.

Which is a matter for another time.

Governor Jerry Brown, shown in the lobby of the old Senator Hotel across from the Capitol, discusses the need to rein in California's boom and bust cycles of water and revenue by passing Propositions 1 and 2.

Brown's had to make a big adjustment along the way in the course of this campaign, but nothing related to any pressure from his Republican opponent, former Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari, who is immolating himself with one of the nuttiest, most self-aggrandizing TV ads I have ever seen. (Call it "Drowning Boy.") Not that many Californians will see it, since he has no money to run it.

I thought the rationale for Kashkari's campaign was to modernize the Republican Party in California.

The state media is struggling some with this governor's race. On Tuesday morning I noticed an odd LA Times front page on news stands with a big photo of Brown and his Republican opponent arguing on a stage. Had something happened I hadn't known about? Nope. It was from the campaign's only debate, six weeks ago. The photo fronted a story about the two supposedly engaged in a fight trading charges about being rich and out of touch. Okey doke. I hadn't really noticed.

Brown is on the air all over the state now, pushing Propositions 1 and 2, the $7.5 billion water bond and the new rainy day fund. Last week, I noted that Brown had nearly $24 million in his campaign account and more than $6 million in a new fund for the ballot measures. Since then, Brown has raised millions more for the initiatives.

As mentioned above, Kashkari has a TV ad, too. He just doesn't have money to run it, beyond token buys his campaign has made in media markets around the state.

Of course, the former Wall Street bailout coordinator is trying to get free media coverage of his ad, which is weird enough to be something of a curiosity.

Republican candidate Neel Kashkari's strange ad.

In the early '60s, Roy LIchtensetein established himself as a master of the new school of Pop Art with his alluring and ironic painting Drowning Girl.

Now Kashkari has established himself as, well, something, with his Drowning Boy, which is neither alluring nor ironic. In it, we get 30 seconds of a little boy struggling under the water before he's rescued by ... the candidate! Meanwhile, there's a voiceover about Brown betraying school children.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

It's about that local court devision in LA throwing out the state's laws making it virtually impossible to fire a public school teacher. Brown finally decided to appeal the ruling on the grounds that state law shouldn't be overturned at the lowest court level. Of course, the state's teachers unions hate the ruling.

The ad doesn't make the context clear. It only makes sense if the viewer is a political insider or if it is accompanied by a TV news story explaining the issue. Which has to include Brown's clever rationale for the appeal.

Meanwhile, there are those awful visuals, culminating in the bathos of Kashkari rescuing the little boy. When I watched it, I immediately thought of an old friend, the late media consultant Sidney Galanty, described as the most ludicrous political spot imaginable, a politician rescuing a small child. And here it is!

The ad was created by Republican consultant Mike Murphy's old PR guy, Todd Harris, who was introduced to California politics by Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2003 campaign. Hey, thanks, Arnold. As you know, we had a real shortage of Republican hacks here in California. Heh.

Speaking of hack politics, we come to the California Public Utilities Commission which, as I've mentioned occasionally over the past year or two has been just too darn footsie-playing with the utilities it is supposed to be regulating, especially Pacific Gas & Electric.

PG&E closed out the last decade in a big way, with one of its certified safe pipelines blowing up a Bay Area neighborhood (killing eight people in the process) and spending $50 million on an initiative to make it a lot harder for communities to develop renewable energy. It was so outrageous that Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman was able to beat it on a budget of about fourteen bucks. That $50 million came out of ratepayer pockets.

PUC President Mike Peevey, at times a very effective ally in the quest to implement California's aggressive renewable energy requirements, symbolized widespread concerns about the PUC and its cozy relations with PG&E and other utilities . A longtime development-oriented Democrat and former Southern California Edison president, Peevey -- initially appointed by Governor Gray Davis and reappointed by Schwarzenegger -- was up for reappointment after 12 years in office at the end of this year.

Faced a rising tide of revelations, protests, and legislative threat of impeachment if Brown appointed him, Peevey at last acceded to the obvious and announced he will step away from the PUC.

The issue is not over, with more to come on PG&E fines and regulator oversight of its practices as well as the expensive closure of the long troubled San Onofre nuclear plant on the Southern California coast. But Peevey's departure, many months after it became the obvious move, removes the biggest symbolic issue.

And for Brown, as the old Arab saying goes, the dogs bark and the caravan moves on.

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