Jerry who? Young voters don't know attorney general

Legal News Line Mar. 6, 2009, 3:00pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)--Younger voters have no connection to California Attorney General Jerry Brown, the 70-year-old former governor who is widely expected to run for a historic third term in 2010, a Field poll released earlier this week indicates.

The poll found that just 8 percent of voters from 19- to 39-years-old support Brown, and a whopping 30 percent have no opinion of him. For a seasoned politician who last year told a writer that there wasn't anything possibly new that could be written about him, this obstacle of re-introducing himself presents a challenge very different from past elections.

Brown's name recognition has always been the foundation from which he has run in elections as varied as the president of the United States (three times defeated) to governor (twice a winner) and mayor of Oakland (once successfully).

But in what will surely be a crowded Democratic primary, Brown may not have that vital advantage with younger voters, particularly over the likes of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a 40-something tech-savvy politician who also wants to be governor.

This potential generational divide is in no way taking Brown by surprise. Seeking to bridge the gap, Brown launched a Facebook page earlier this year, even putting his own spin on social networking. Brown offered a personal take on a common Facebook thread when he posted 25 things You Might Not Know About Me.

In an even more surprising use of modern technology, presumably to help shore up support among younger voters, Brown spent Thursday during the state Supreme Court Hearing on same-sex marriage, blogging on his Facebook page, while Deputy Attorney General Chris Krueger was turned inside out by jabbing questions from the justices poking holes in Brown's legal defense of same-sex marriage.

Newsom has not missed the opportunity to carefully promote the differences in their ages, as both battle for critical Bay Area support, donations and endorsements. The mayor recently said how much he respected Brown by recalling a time as toddler sitting on Brown's knee. How's that for saying "you're old," without saying it?

Brown knows he does not have to, nor can he expect to, win the younger voters outright. As a recent story pointed out, Newsom had about 25,000 "friends" on his Facebook page in February compared to Brown's 700. But in a tough primary where every vote counts, he must carve into Newsom's support base to ward off any potential Obama-like surge among younger voters.

The rest of the poll confirms much of what is already known. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., remains the clear favorite if she decides to run, easily outpacing the other candidates.

"The Field poll ... finds that were [Feinstein] to run, she'd mop up the rest of the field," one political blogger wrote.

The poll found she is favored by 38 percent, with Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa each getting 16 percent and Newsom following behind with 10. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, still the only Democratic candidate officially in the race, received just 4 percent of support in the poll.

Though Feinstein is widely expected to remain in Washington now that Democrats have a vice-like grip on the levers of power, she has continued to leave open the door for a final bid to become governor, something she's wanted to do for decades.

Unlike Brown, Feinstein likely won't have to fend off Newsom with younger voters, as many believe Newsom would not take on a woman who has been a critical mentor during his political career.

"I think people are ripe for a woman governor," Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media told Legal Newsline, "So Meg Whitman's forays into this must be goading Dianne. There is a good argument that the first woman governor in California is the capstone she'd want for her career."

Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, announced she is exploring a run for governor on the Republican side. She immediately vaulted to the top of the polls where her favorable rating of 21 percent topped former California legislator Tom Campbell's 18 percent.

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, like Whitman, a wealthy Silicon Valley moderate, received troubling news from the polls, garnering only 7 percent.

The good news for Poizner and the hurdle for all Republican candidates is that a majority of those polled still don't have any opinion about any of them, a striking contrast to the Democratic field.

Brown remains the front-runner if Feinstein doesn't run, but the gap he enjoyed over the other candidates last fall has narrowed. In a poll without Feinstein, Brown topped Villaraigosa 27 to 20 percent with Newsom taking 14 percent.

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