Jerry Brown: Keeping the focus on the Republicans

This week, Attorney General Jerry Brown filed papers with the Secretary of State opening an exploratory committee for Governor, for all intents and purposes divulging the worst kept secret in California politics over the past two years: that he is indeed going to run for Governor.

In June of 2008, I had the pleasure of speaking to a panel at the Sacramento Metro Chamber’s State Advocacy Day. I was asked who I thought the next Governor of California would be and I answered: “Jerry Brown, period.”

I worked on the primary campaign against Jerry Brown for Attorney General in 2006. I know how this guy works and I know how tough it is to run a campaign against him. Not only is my opinion about the 2010 race unchanged since I spoke to the Metro Chamber, it has solidified in both political and policy terms.

Having worked on several gubernatorial campaigns (including Davis and Westly for Governor campaigns with SF Mayor Gavin Newsom advisor Garry South) I understand the dynamics of a gubernatorial campaign in California are always in flux. But Jerry Brown has smartly avoided the pitfalls that come with most candidates’ desire to show themselves off to whoever will pay attention.  Brown understands that he is winning this race, at both the primary and general election level, without even being in it.

That said, the announcement of an exploratory campaign the same week a Rasmussen Poll has Jerry handily beating Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner, and Tom Campbell is no coincidence.  For Brown, this keeps the focus on the Republicans and away from his Democratic opponent.

Still, this coming week, Newsom has former President Bill Clinton coming out to campaign for him at a time when he needs help the most.  Clinton is still popular in California, but this endorsement smacks of petty payback for the 1992 Presidential race and voters can smell that. All of internal and public polls I’ve seen show Brown running up the score on Newsom in the primary match-up.  Most have Brown ahead even in Newsom’s hometown of San Francisco. The amazing part is Brown’s lead has increased despite being outspent by Newsom during this early period 6 to 1.

Brown leads Newsom in the early fundraising, with $7 million on hand to Newsom’s $1.2 million. That cash lead is about to triple now that Brown can raise under the gubernatorial limits, so look to see that $7 million turn into $21 million.

With growing money and poll leads, it’s plain smart politics for Brown to shunt Newsom to the sidelines as long as he can. Newsom also has to be concerned about having to deal with San Francisco city politics while running for Governor. This is like having to fight a two-front war and we all know how that goes.  Brown, on the other hand, can continue to do the work of the Attorney General, suing the bad guys and making the office and, by extension, himself look good.

Brown’s early leads on all three of his potential Republican opponents may be inside baseball, but it demonstrates their fundamental weaknesses from the outset.

Meg Whitman is another inexperienced wealthy Republican candidate and we’ve already had that with Schwarzenegger.  Californians aren’t interested in another member of the idle rich who decides to take up civics as a hobby. Take away her paid army of staff and her teleprompter and the wheels fall off, as they did this week with disclosures of her pattern of non-participation in our Democracy.

The same goes for Steve Poizner. He may have voted more often than Whitman, but here’s another guy who waited until he was super-rich before trying to buy his way onto an Assembly seat and eventually buying the Insurance Commissioner’s office.

And both of these guys are getting beat by nice-guy Tom Campbell who doesn’t have two nickels to rub together.

The State of California is in the rockiest of waters and the voters are looking for someone to right the ship. All the polling, focus groups and research we did on Brown during the 2006 Attorney General’s race told us that the voters know Jerry Brown, have forgiven mistakes and forgotten his flaws and choose to remember the good times. The voters believe he’s a fighter, that he will fight for them and, frankly, they just plain like him.

That’s why he has the early money lead, that’s why he has the early lead in the voter polls and that’s why I think he’ll be the next Governor of California.

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