Jerry Brown Poised For Victory After Ho-Hum Election Campaign

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

Here’s the big news on the run-up to the November election now only days away. There will be no big news!

The marquee race—the one for governor — has been a one-person contest from start to finish and, barring unforeseen events the outcome is predictable.

The GOP candidate, Neel Kashkari, has been so badly out-matched that he apparently thinks the best gambit to keep Jerry Brown voters away from the polls is by challenging the excitement value of the two state Propositions for which the governor has been vigorously campaigning. These are Prop 1, the $7.5 billion water bond infrastructure issue, and Prop 2, which would create a rainy day reserve fund.

Brown has seen no need to re-introduce himself to an electorate that is mostly happy with his performance. Instead he has put his energies into promoting both Propositions which are acting as surrogates for what has been a near-invisible candidate.

According to the latest polls the public favors both of them—one being a partial antidote against future droughts and the other a symbol of the fiscal prudence which has endeared Brown to many of his would-be critics. Proposition 1 may be the tougher sell judging from the amount of advertising dollars that have been spent pushing it.

Brown, himself, is enjoying a 17 point lead which he and his campaign team will be happy to nurse the rest of the way. This leaves Kashkari reduced to throwing hail-Mary passes in the closing moments for which there is less likelihood of a completion than an Oakland Raiders win.

Meanwhile the governor—who at a robust 76, was once the youngest and now is the oldest chief executive in the nation— has spent practically no money to keep the office which he prevented the GOP from wresting after a much more lively duel four years ago. Then, his hapless opponent, Meg Whitman, shelled out a record $140 million of her own fortune in that losing battle.

Kashkari in comparison has invested a measly $3.1 million of his sizeable financial worth leading to speculation this can have only one purpose—to clear the field of serious opposition for a second winning run after Brown is termed out.

That is hardly guaranteed. No previously defeated California GOP gubernatorial candidate has ever run for the office a second time successfully and no Republican has been elected to any statewide office since 2006. Even with the advent of the top-two open primary, this is a decidedly non-competitive two-party state.

The reasons are manifold.

For one thing voters need reasons to “fire” incumbents. With California’s economy on the rebound and beating expectations, and a healthy budget surplus in part due to the passage of wisely crafted tax measures that received bi-partisan support, Brown is riding a powerful re-election wave.

It also helps to have those in the oil, environmental, financial and other sectors not generally warm to some of his policies disarmed by all the good news.

More so, in one of the “Bluest” states with a current Republican registration hovering at 28.4% and dropping, (the Democrats are at 43.4% though also dropping), GOP victories require exceptionally attractive candidates able to buck the customary Democratic tide.

Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson pulled it off. Arnold Schwarzenegger did the same capitalizing on the recall movement of his predecessor, Gray Davis—arguably one of the blandest figures ever to win the governorship.

Brown may not be electrifying but is always in full command of the moment and has an undefinable charisma which, following in the footsteps of his father, Governor Edmund Brown, Sr. has given California the closest thing to a dynasty.

He has demonstrated a singular capacity for transformation, bursting on the scene as callow visionary preaching futuristic notions about solar energy and launching emergency satellites into orbit during his first turn in the statehouse more than 30 years ago and is now reprising himself as the seasoned sage of Sacramento.

In 2010, Brown crushed Whitman, 54% to 41%, who seemed to have made-for-order Republican credentials. That margin is likely to widen November 4th.

Whatever name recognition Kashkari will garner—the bulk of which derived from a Warhol moment posing in Fresno as a homeless person to dramatize California’s unemployment rate –may not be sufficient to drive off future contenders who can match his accomplishments.

Ironically one of those included oversight of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) in 2009 in the early moments of the Obama Administration which is credited with easing some of the state’s financial woes including the drop in the unemployment rate.

Even if these stratagems prove effective, Kashkari will most likely have to face off against one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars including Attorney General Kamala Harris; Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom; former Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaiargosa; Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones; or others waiting in the wings.

If Brown is anxious at all about what lies ahead he sent an unmistakable message by heading off to New Haven for a Yale Law School reunion instead of continuing to campaign. That might smack of arrogance but it takes Brown out of the spotlight which he does not need at this point.

Unfortunately this low profiling around the main event and the absence of any ballot measures that can ignite voter passion is bound to discourage heavy voter turnout. This could affect some of the down-ballot races where favorites may see unusually strong challenges but these will come mainly from other Democrats.

Gubernatorial races in California are often a prelude to a presidential run, so they must be taken seriously. If Jerry Brown has such designs to try once again in 2016, (two previous attempts got nowhere) given his usual fastidiousness, it would not be surprising if a campaign team is already taking shape.

If November 4th ends as anticipated he will have done what no one has done before him—won an unprecedented fourth term in the governor’s office. Not bad for a guy who was written off as a lightweight by much of the political world and the media three decades ago.

It would also restore Brown to the national stage as a turn-around governor who gets the job done where others around the country have failed.

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