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Brown outlines priorities after gubernatorial win

Supporters for Jerry Brown gather at the Fox Theater to await his victory speech in his bid for California governor. (Vanessa Guerra/ CALIFORNIA BEAT)

(11/3) — 06:20 PDT — OAKLAND — Jerry Brown had his wish granted Tuesday night: the former two-term California governor from the 1970s won a third term as the top official in the state, beating out Republican challenger and political novice Meg Whitman.

And in front of a crowd of cheering supports at the Fox Theater in Oakland, he promised to work toward a “breakthrough” in Sacramento.

Media outlets began projecting Brown the winner of a hotly-contested governor’s race about a half hour after polls closed. But Whitman did not immediately concede the race, as she waited for more results to file in. She delivered her concession speech in Los Angeles shortly before 11:45 p.m., 40 minutes after Brown took the stage in Oakland to declare victory before a cheering crowd of supporters.

Brown chose the Fox Theater, a dazzling venue restored to its former greatness through a recent renovation, for his victory party. The symbolism wasn’t lost on Brown.

“I did this 36 years ago, and I tried during the campaign to never mention the word ‘experience,’ or tell too many old stories, because you know, after awhile people are looking for something new,” he said, before explaining the history of the theater.

As he stood next to his wife of five years, Anne Gust, he explained how he’ll be different this time around. “As you know, I’ve got the know-how and experience,” he said. “This time, of course, we have a first lady, which I didn’t have last time. That’s going to be the real difference […] I don’t need a plan when I have such a good planner at my side.”

The five-minute speech was characteristic of Brown’s style — unscripted, rambling, witty — and hinted at his upcoming priorities as governor. “I see California once again leading in renewable energy, in public education and openness to every kind of person, whatever their color is,” he said. “I mean, we’re all God’s children.”

“We want to make sure that [schools] have what they need to create greatness,” Brown said. “‘Will this help the next generation?’ That’s going to be my watchword.”

Brown, who held 54 percent of the vote with 94 percent of precincts reporting, also addressed political polarization in the state.

“These are real divisions […] I take as my challenge forging a common purpose […] based not just on compromise, but on a vision of what California can be,” he said.

Brown has promised to hit the ground running in Sacramento, getting to work on the state budget within two weeks of being elected — before he is sworn in.

Whitman, the former eBay CEO, campaigned on a platform she called “business-friendly,” promising to lower taxes and reduce regulations to entice businesses to create jobs in California.

But in the weeks leading up to the election, the polls showed Brown, the current attorney general, with an increasing lead over Whitman. Brown argued his previous experience as governor would help him in fixing the state’s gaping budget deficit. A September Field Poll showed the candidates dead even, but by last week Brown held a 10-point lead over Whitman in a poll by the same organization.

Whitman spent more than $140 million of her own money — a record amount in a statewide race — in her gubernatorial bid, much of it on a negative media advertising blitz. But by the week before the election had rolled around, Brown’s unfavorable rating remained unchanged from September at 47 percent, while his favorable rating climbed three points — from 44 to 47 percent — suggesting Whitman’s negative ads were ineffective and may have hurt her more than her opponent.

At an event October 26 in Long Beach attended by both candidates, Today Show host Matt Lauer challenged both candidates to abandon their attack ads. Brown — perhaps sensing political advantage — said he would withdraw his attack ads if Whitman did the same, while Whitman stood by her ads, drawing boos from the crowd.

But in her concession speech — unusually, delivered after Brown’s victory speech — Whitman too focused on Californians coming together.

“We did not achieve the victory we worked so hard for,” she said, “but we love California and we still believe that it can be a better place […] It is time for Californians to unite behind the common cause of turning around this state.”

Vanessa Guerra reported from Oakland, and Beat Political Director Steven Luo contributed reporting. Contact Jennifer Courtney at jcourtney@californiabeat.org.