Brown remains on presidential sidelines

Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)--California Attorney General Jerry Brown has yet to respond to calls for Democrats to unite behind a presidential candidate.

Before and after Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois clinched the Democratic nomination last week, Brown - one of the most influential Democrats in the state - remained silent on the topic.

On Monday his spokesman, Gareth Lacy, was repeating what he's been saying since January: "Attorney General Brown hasn't weighed in on the presidential race yet."

Lacy didn't return two calls to see if Brown had decided to make an announcement to the contrary since the 2008 primary season ended.

It's been widely reported that Brown's looking at a run for governor in 2010 and, strategically speaking, it would have been dicey for Brown to pick between Obama and rival Sen. Hillary Clinton before the season was over, said Bruce Cain, professor of political science and executive director of the University of California's Washington Center in the District of Columbia.

"You make enemies by choosing a candidate," Cain told Legal Newsline. "But I would assume sometime between now and the convention, or even sooner, he would because I think there will be a lot of pressure on elected officials in general to declare and unify because the party's concerned about damage done."


Tuesday - after it became clear Obama would take the nomination - Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a superdelegate, endorsed him and called for others to join:

"It is now time for the Democratic Party to unite behind one candidate," she said. "Through a unified Party we will defeat John McCain in November."

But there's no telling if Brown will get involved in the race.

As Cain points out: "Jerry's an unpredictable guy."

The attorney general and former governor could be looking to re-establish himself as a sort of independent, in the mold of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cain said, but added that it would "be hard for him to do an Arnold."

In some states, the attorney general's office is seen as a nonpartisan one, but it's considered partisan in California, Cain said.

As a result, it hasn't been problematic for California's attorney generals to make partisan announcements, especially since the office has traditionally been a springboard to the governorship.

"So I would think the incentive for somebody like a Jerry Brown would be to stay closely tied to the party," Cain said, "because he's going to need support from the president-elect in raising money and campaigning for him down the road."

Speaking from Los Angeles, Democratic strategist Darry Sragow downplayed any suggestion that Brown's silence on the presidential race has any real significance.

"I think Jerry probably figures that that process is really irrelevant," he said. "The Jerry Brown I know certainly is not going to be part of a thundering herd and I think that he'll do what he decides is in his own interest at the right time."

Brown has been around politics long enough to know there's no reason to sign up with the politicians who are afraid to be left behind.

Sragow said Brown is quite aware that it's better to do things your own way than to succumb to the idea that you need to "get a seat on the train before it leaves the station."

Of course, an endorsement from Brown would be a plus for a presidential candidate, Sragow said, because he's popular in California and there's a good chance he's going to be the state's next governor.

At the same time, if he remains focused on his work as the state's attorney general, it's unlikely that he'll be perceived as divisive, in Sragow's opinion.

"I think his patience is the very quintessential Jerry Brown," he said. "A little Zen-like, letting events flow and choosing to work on the things he's responsible for as attorney general rather than mixing it up."

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