NEWS ANALYSIS: Ageless Brown scares off yet another challenger
By STEVEN LUO
Beat Political Director
And then there were none.
First, state Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi traded in his gubernatorial campaign to jump into the race for Ellen Tauscher’s House seat (a race he now looks likely to win when voters go to the polls on Tuesday).
Then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, long rumored to be a contender for the Democratic nomination for governor, announced that he wouldn’t run after all.
Now comes news that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, for months now the only declared candidate in the Democratic field, is dropping out, ostensibly to spend more time with his family.
One common thread runs through all these decisions: fear of a 71-year-old man who isn’t even officially in the race.
While his opponents drew all the attention with flashy campaign events and Internet promotion blitzes, Attorney General Jerry Brown has quietly built up a commanding lead in the statistics that matter — money and support in the polls — the old-fashioned way.
Brown has leveraged connections built up through a lifetime in politics to build up insider support and raise more than $7 million in campaign cash, many times that of his primary challengers.
And his name recognition, especially amongst the older voters who vote most reliably in off-year elections, has allowed him to build an enormous lead in opinion polls as his opponents have stumbled.
That statewide name recognition will also serve Brown well in a potential general election matchup against any of the candidates in the Republican field — all with Silicon Valley bases and only one of whom has held statewide office.
Those built-in advantages have allowed him to keep a low profile, avoiding public appearances and policy announcements even as Newsom took repeated blows for some of his San Francisco policies and the Republican candidates started flinging mud at each other.
As a result, Brown, who served two terms as governor in the 1970s — before California’s term limit law took effect — looks well-positioned to complete a remarkable political renaisssance by returning to the governor’s mansion.
Brown could have gone into the twilight — an elder statesman after a long, colorful, and successful political career — after his third presidential run in 1992 ended in defeat to then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.
Instead, he chose a young politician’s path back to the top. Brown won the mayor’s job in Oakland in 1998, where he spent two sometimes controversial terms.
Then he leveraged his name recognition to run away with the 2006 race for state attorney general — a move that had sparked speculation as to whether Brown had further ambitions.
Along the way, Brown underwent an extraordinary transformation — the politican once known as “Governor Moonbeam,” known for eccentric liberalism and dalliances with high-profile women, became the buttoned-down establishment man, a safe pair of hands.
Now, Brown is ready to return to the top of the state political system, cementing his status as California’s ultimate political survivor.
Unless Dianne Feinstein — the undisputed top dog of California politics — decides to jump in first.