Dan Weintraub, late of the Sacramento Bee, currently of the New York Times's Bay Area edition, wrote over the weekend about the emergence of Jerry Brown as the de facto Democratic nominee for California governor in 2010:
(W)ith Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco’s departure from the race Friday, the Democrats now have no major candidates officially in the running for the job in 2010.
But then that ignores Jerry Brown. And you never want to ignore Mr. Brown. Even if you tried, he would not let you.
Mr. Brown, California’s attorney general, has instantly moved from front-runner to presumptive nominee, presuming that he officially enters the race as expected.
Jerry Brown, 71, is now the Grand Old Man of California Democratic politics. He can be wily and he can be charming, often in the same conversation. (I have fond memories of interviewing him when he was running for attorney general in 2006.) No one dare challenge him. It's unlikely any Democrat will, though the progressive wing remains hopeful. Every so often the name "Dianne Feinstein" floats through the din. Feinstein, who owns a coveted lifetime membership in the United States Senate, is 76 and sits on many powerful committees. Despite her busy schedule and notwithstanding the daily rough and tumble of Beltway political life, Feinstein is unlikely to leave relative calm of the Senate for four years of guaranteed Hell in Sacramento.
Recently, two other names have emerged: Rep. Jane Harman, the Democratic congresswoman from L.A.'s South Bay area, and the current first lady, Maria Shriver. Harman is generally considered -- or tarred as -- a more moderate Democrat and therefore would have problems with liberal voters in the primary. Shriver is the glamorous wife of a wildly unpopular governor and a member of the Kennedy family. So her odds may not be quite as bad.
But much depends on -- what else? -- money.
Weintraub notes the main reason for Newsom's departure from the race: fundraising. A serious bid for governor in the Golden State now requires a minimum of $40 million. (It may be lower, but that's about what Schwarzenegger spent against Phil Angelides last time.)
"By many accounts, Mr. Newsom lacked the will to" raise that kind of money, Weintraub writes. "Mr. Brown is a different story. His deep and longstanding ties to the party’s interest groups, especially organized labor, allowed him to raise far more money than Mr. Newsom while hardly trying. Once a campaign finance reformer, Mr. Brown has morphed into a campaign finance machine."
Yes, remember when Brown ran for president in 1992? That was a glorious campaign. Progressives would nearly faint in his presence. (I know; I covered one of his campaign rallies in San Diego for the UCSD Guardian.) His gimmick that year (and it was a gimmick) was to limit his campaign contributions to no more than $100. Brown has mellowed in his dotage -- at least on that "iron-clad principle." With Newsom out, Brown is sitting pretty.
But what about the Republicans? Well, that's only just beginning to take shape. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman is running lame, dishonest radio ads. Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is likely to take flack from conservatives for his past support of liberal causes and candidates. He's also trailing in the polls. Tom Campbell is a cerebral moderate with a head for budget politics -- the one thing that matters in California right now. So he's clearly doomed.
And, in any event, if the election were held today, Brown would utterly crush every one of those Republicans.
Jerry Brown... governor... again? The mind boggles.
*My original headline was going to be "If it's Brown, flush it down," which was an anti-Brown bumper sticker slogan I remember from when I was a kid. Then I remembered I used that line in a post I wrote in March. Brown was governor during the last big state drought. One water-saving mantra for flushing toilets at the time was: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." Funny how history repeats. And by "funny," I mean, "Oh, dear God, please, make it stop!"