Veteran Calif. pollster likes Brown's chances for governor in 2010

Legal News Line Apr. 20, 2009, 11:00am

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-For more times than could be counted by anything other than Google, Californians have read or heard the phrase, "in the latest Field Poll" and quickly moved on to the results.

But the namesake behind the most widely respected independent polling data and public opinion survey in the Golden State is also a virtual encyclopedia of state politics dating back to his first statewide election poll in 1948.

So it's no small matter than Merv Field, in a recent interview, said Brown's chances are likely no worse than 50-50 should he run for a third term as California's governor in 2010, assuming that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the darling of all recent Field Polls, remains out of the race as most political insiders expect.

Brown has not yet announced he intends to run but has done everything else to prepare, perhaps only waiting for Feinstein's decision to make his official. Brown is expected to face a tough primary from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi has announced he is going to run, but lags in the polls behind the others.

"Jerry Brown is reasonably well positioned to be elected governor in 2010," Field told Calbuzz, a political blog written by two journalism veterans. "If Dianne Feinstein does not run, then Brown and Antonio Villaraigosa move up in position. I think then that the chances for either winning the nomination is 50-50. Newsom's odds improve but are still relatively long."

Field notes that Brown, 71, "wears his age well... He certainly doesn't appear to be an old codger trying to win back his old job."

Field also explains the obstacles that have hindered high-profile mayors from jumping to the state's top spot, an obstacle Newsom and Villaraigosa would have to prove capable for scaling.

"Dealing with local problems get more attention locally, where failures are well reported, then resurrected when running for governor," Field explained. "Local problems have inordinate effects on voters. Mayors, not governors, deal with potholes."

Brown's candidacy may have taken a step forward even while he sits on the sidelines. Following the resignation of his top campaign advisor earlier this month, Garamendi has shifted his focus to a seat on the House of Representatives, in the 10th Congressional District.

"A lot of you have told me that this congressional district is where I should run, that I have the experience and the background to have an impact in Washington, D.C., Garamendi said at public event last week. "So, we're considering it. I'd like to seriously consider it, too."

Though not offering any sources, Capitol Weekly reported that Garamendi had made up his mind to run for the vacant East Bay seat last held by Ellen Tauscher.

Capitol Weekly points out that Garamendi's name recognition would dwarf would be opponents in a low-turn out election. Ironically, if he were to win, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would appoint his successor, giving a Republican the likely role as incumbent in the 2010 election.

Schwarzenegger took Garamendi to the woodshed after the lieutenant governor offered harsh criticism of the politically compromised budget plan touted by the governor. Following the budget's passage through the Legislature, Schwarzenegger cut Garamendi's budget by more than half.

It will be interesting to see if some of that budget is restored by the governor, should he get to replace Garamendi with his own appointee.

Garamendi didn't pose a serious threat to any of the leading Democratic candidates, despite a lengthy political resume. The Field Poll never showed him with more than single-digit support. Despite his early entry into the race, both Villaraigosa and Newsom, who have not yet entered have surged past him.

But, Garamendi did have the strongest ties to President Obama, and the longer he stayed in the race, the less other candidates can jockey for the support, and the money of wealthy Obama backers in a state he enjoys a nearly two-thirds approval rate.

Brown meanwhile continues to shape a platform far removed from the lofty idealism of his first two terms in office, when back in the 1970s he was an uber-liberal up-and-comer with eyes on the presidency. After three times running, and losing, bids to become the President of the United States, Brown revamped his image as mayor of Oakland and as a crusading attorney general focused on reform and energy efficiency.

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton said Brown intends to run as a "back-to-basics governor" in 2010. For the second time in a week, a story about Brown quotes him as saying he'd be "an apostle for common sense" if and when he runs for governor.

Field said he has his own expectations on how a Brown campaign will look.

"I can see him campaigning this way," Field said. "'I was first elected governor when I was 36. I accomplished a lot of things (also admitting to some failures). I have learned a lot since then -- being a mayor, AG, etc. I have witnessed all the changes, been active in dealing with them and am now uniquely equipped to deal with the huge problems facing the state.'"

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