Nearly one month after the state’s political parties have chosen their respective candidates for governor, the general election race is off to a lively start…or is it?
It seems that finding the energy in this race depends on which campaign you choose to focus. While Republican Meg Whitman has seamlessly remained in campaign mode since her primary victory last month, her Democratic opponent, former Governor Jerry Brown, apparently has had a little difficulty getting started.
According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, Democratic strategists in the state are beginning to worry that Brown has, perhaps, been too lethargic in his campaign efforts. He is clearly outspent by Whitman thus far – as she as funneled more than $90 million of her personal fortune into her campaign. And he is also clearly out-attacked by Whitman thus far – her ads painting him as a stark radical from the 60’s hit the airwaves as soon as she clinched the nomination.
Brown may argue that Whitman’s campaign spending and attacks have not hurt him, but elevated his chances at retaking the statehouse, due to the negativity associated with them. The RealClearPolitics.com average of polls on this race currently has him defeating her by nearly 6 points. However, neither candidate has secured the coveted 50% in any poll, which means the race is still anyone’s for the taking.
The primary concern that Brown supporters and political pragmatists alike have with their candidate seems to be whether he can coast on his name recognition and political clout alone for very much longer. Although money and attacks are often what voters identify as negative aspects to any political campaign, the fact of the matter is that they do work…otherwise, politicians would avoid them altogether.
Brown’s attacks on Whitman seem to be limited to remarks he’s given to his pals in the press. There was the incident last month where, while chatting with a reporter, he likened Whitman’s campaign to that of a Nazi propagandist. Needless to say, that characterization wasn’t really harped on by the California media – possibly because it makes Brown look like an out-of-touch, ignorant fool.
The main advantage Brown seems to hold is his name. He is part of a political dynasty that has reemerged again and again in Golden State politics for more than five decades. Such notoriety allowed him to wait until March of this year to officially declare his candidacy for governor – whereas Whitman and other primary candidates announced their candidacies almost a year ago.
The very whisper of Brown entering the race was enough to clear the Democratic field for him. It had to be a good feeling for him to sit idly by while Whitman and Steve Poizner beat each other up during the primary campaign day-after-day, month-after-month. But, perhaps, it gave him a false sense of security.
In any election, simply because one party spends the entire primary campaign fighting it out between its candidates and the other is able to relax for a few months, with its nominee being already secured, does not necessarily ensure electoral success for the latter party in the general election matchup. Just ask John McCain.
Now Brown is the target.
The former Governor would be wise to take a page from the playbook of his fellow longtime California public servant, Senator Barbara Boxer. The three-term Senator is not taking anything for granted in her race against her millionaire opponent, Carly Fiorina. Boxer continues to raise money and remains on the defense to Fiorina’s attacks. She seems to understand what is at stake in this election year that is believed to heavily favor Republicans nationwide. Brown, on the other hand, seems to believe that some sort of coronation is in store for him in November.
Technically, neither he nor Whitman is an incumbent candidate. If anything, the voters’ referendum on the incumbent should reflect her, since her party has held power in the statehouse for the past seven years (again, technically). However, Brown, being a former two-term governor, is seemingly being treated as the de facto incumbent candidate. And that’s not too good for him.
If his administration, which held power from 1975 to 1983, comes under examination – as the Whitman campaign likely hopes it would – the economic malaise that plagued the state and the nation at the time would certainly be comparable to the dire fiscal problems we are facing right now. Brown’s unquestionably liberal maneuvers from appointing radical judges to opposing tax-cutting referendums like Proposition 13 would undoubtedly come under the microscope. This is not the year, politically, for such policies to be put on full display…even on the Left Coast.
With four months left to go, it would be prudent for Brown to try and position himself on the offense against Whitman. As hard as it may be to view him as an outsider, he is, after all, the candidate of the challenging party. He also has more experience than anyone in the state (outside two other living former governors) at being California’s chief executive – for everything experience is worth in today’s climate.
Brown needs to stop seeing this election as his rightful or entitled comeback and start raising money like any other politician who is facing a superior-funded opponent in a tough, high-stakes race. An ultimate defeat for the former Governor would certainly not signify the first time that a career politician’s aspirations have been shattered due to his own blind arrogance…and hopefully not the last.