GOP strategists: Brown on his way to becoming governor, again

Chris Rizo Aug. 1, 2009, 1:00am

Jerry Brown (D)

Sal Russo

Dan Schnur

Grant Gillham

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-California Attorney General Jerry Brown is well on his way to becoming the state's next governor, some Republican strategists say.

Interestingly, the Democratic attorney general has yet to announce his candidacy for the office he held decades ago, and he routinely underscores the fact he is not a declared candidate for governor when asked how he would govern given the opportunity.

Speaking to Legal Newsline on Friday, three leading GOP strategists said perhaps what is most telling about Brown's political future is the amount of campaign cash he has raked in despite not formally entering the 2010 race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

"By raising $7 million Brown has made it clear he is a candidate," said longtime Republican political consultant Sal Russo. "He's got to be the favorite going into the race."

But many early frontrunners have gone on to lose the general elections in California, said Russo, a principle in the Sacramento-based Republican PR firm Russo Marsh & Rogers.

"A lot can still happen, but he is the favorite," Russo said, adding that Brown, who has held a variety of statewide offices, has better name recognition than his rivals, including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the only declared Democratic candidate.

Russo said that Brown having been a former governor is perhaps more open to scrutiny because he has an exhaustive political record that can be attacked by his opponents.

However, Russo said Brown's experience is an asset in the sense that Brown is well known by California voters, who are less familiar with Newsom and the Republican contenders, including former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former Congressman Tom Campbell.

"Brown's demonstrated that he can govern and California is still standing," Russo said. "Some say it was worse after his eight years in office, but it's still standing and that goes a long way when there is an uncertainty about candidates."

Dan Schnur, a top political and media strategist and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said it is "very likely" Brown will be the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

He told Legal Newsline that two years ago it appeared that either Newsom or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would be the Democratic nominee, but since that time Brown has emerged as the "strong frontrunner" in the race.

"He has as good or better odds of being elected than any other candidate in the race," Schnur said of Brown's chances of becoming governor again.

Schnur noted that pundits have argued about whether Brown's previous terms as governor would affect him politically this year. Schnur said he is not so sure it matters since Brown was first elected governor 35 years ago.

"There is a large group of voters that hadn't even been born when he was elected governor," he said.

Earlier this week, Brown, 71, told a group of trial lawyers gathered in San Francisco that he has not decided whether he will run for governor, a post also once held by his father, Edmund "Pat" Brown Sr.

"I don't think anyone believes that," Schnur said of Brown's remark that he is undecided about entering the wide-open race. "It is hard to raise $7 million for a campaign you have decided whether or not to enter. People in both parties play this game -- where they explore their campaign but it is hard to see a scenario in which Brown does not become a main candidate."

On his possible run for governor, Brown told members of Public Justice that he wants to make sure he can turn the state around if he is elected.

"Quite frankly, one of the reasons that I haven't jumped into the race for governor is that I really want to think about this: What's possible? What's the pathway to make it all happen?" Brown told the trial lawyer group.

Grant Gillham, a veteran political consultant with offices in California and Washington D.C., noted that voter registration numbers in the Golden State are definitely on Brown's side.

"Anyone underestimating Attorney General Brown's ability to become the next governor of California is making a big mistake," Gillham told Legal Newsline.

According to the secretary of state's office, there are about 7.6 million registered Democrats in the state, compared to 5.3 million Republicans and 2.5 million 'Decline to State' voters.

"Democrats hold a huge advantage in voter registration in California, and in order to win, Republicans are in the unenviable position of having to gain a disproportionately large number of the state's 'Decline to State' voters," Gillham said.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is unable to seek reelection because of term limits. Brown, who was California governor from 1975 to 1983, held office before the term limits law was enacted, thus allowing him to run in next June's Democratic primary.

Brown was the mayor of Oakland, Calif., from 1998 to 2006, before being elected as the state's chief legal officer in 2007. Brown unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nominations for U.S. president in 1976, 1980, and 1992.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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