News & Views from 465 California Street

Alms for Jerry

Clint Reilly

Recent developments in the California gubernatorial race are giving me political flashbacks.

UC Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies, shortly after the 1994 elections. A political postmortem.

Several hundred political junkies and a smattering of candidates mixed freely with academics and media types, all eager to dissect the election.

As the losing gubernatorial campaign manager, I was on the hot seat. My candidate, Kathleen Brown, had lost handily to incumbent Governor Pete Wilson. Wilson’s team of consultants entertained the audience with detailed accounts of their own behind-the-scenes strategic brilliance.

Standing off to one side, the famous pollster Mervin Field listened pensively. George Gorton, Don Sipple and Joe Shumate of the Wilson campaign were openly derogatory of my commercials and strategy as the Sacramento Bee’s John Jacobs, (formerly of the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner), nodded in enthusiastic agreement.

“I feel like a cadaver at my own autopsy,” I opened. Gallows humor seemed the only credible rejoinder.

Newspapers were rampant with commentary that I had bankrupted KB’s campaign by wasting money on summer television and not saving for October.

Professor Bruce Cain, who headed the institute and who was also one of the state’s leading election pundits, presided over the event, occasionally tossing a sympathetic shrug in my direction.

Which brings us back to Election 2010: Jerry Brown is in trouble for almost the same reasons as Kathleen Brown 16 years ago. He will be massively outspent just like his sister Kathleen and soon will have to choose between two lousy options.

I know, because I’ve faced the same choice.

I was hired late in the 1994 primary season to replace Kathleen Brown’s team. I helped her soundly defeat John Garamendi in the primary only to discover shortly after that we trailed Wilson by more than 10 points – the same place I predict Jerry will be in 60 days.

We faced a Hobson’s choice: Spend money during the summer and perhaps catch up, or conserve money for the October endgame.

Had we held out for October, Wilson would have built an insurmountable margin over the summer. Even an incredible flood of money at the end wouldn’t have closed the gap. As a consultant, I only played to win.

So, I spent money during the summer to stay competitive, hoping to pull even in polls by Labor Day and spur fundraising. I was severely criticized. But had we saved our money until the end, the result likely would have been the same.

Take the last governor’s race between Phil Angelides and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Angelides headed into the summer far behind the much better funded Governor. Phil held his money until October but by then Arnold was so far ahead, Phil’s minor league media blitz fell on deaf ears. Angelides lost by about the same margin as Kathleen Brown.

In early 2010, the story looks the same.

The latest California Poll shows Whitman ahead of Brown by four points, although most papers are calling it a statistical dead heat. The tide of paid media from Whitman – TV spots and radio commercials – has clearly influenced public opinion.

With the mega-money Whitman is pouring into television, I expect her lead to stretch to double digits by the end of the June primaries.

Even with $16 million in the bank, Brown is strapped for money next to the billionaire Whitman. Forced to conserve resources, he will be unable to counter with much paid television in the primary.

Sure, Jerry Brown has more money than his sister or Phil Angelides. But Whitman has unlimited resources.

If Jerry waits until after Labor Day to unleash his attack, Whitman will be out of sight. But if he dilutes his war chest during the summer, he’ll be broke in October.

The lesson is clear: Checkbook Dems need to get Jerry near $100 million or his consultant will be as hunkered down as I was at next year’s IGS election autopsy.

Comments (4)

  • I enjoy reading your occasional articles written in the Daily Review. Sometimes it is the only thing of substance.

    I am not a political guru and not grounded in extensive political knowledge, except for what I learned while working at CSUEB’s Poli Sci department. But over the years my husband and I have worked on mayoral, supervisor, asemblyman, council, and sheriff elections. Our last foray into working on campaigns was for Obama. I aways believed that if you tried to solve locally, you might be able to solve the larger problems that come up in county, state, and federal government. I have served on commissions, and volunteered in our community for years.

    We were discussing with our son on Sunday about Jerry, his lack of money, and his slipping into a hole of invisibilty soon. I was wondering why Jerry is not using some of the internet tactics and appeal for donations that Obama so effectively used. Our son’s opinion was that Jerry is a balding, former moonbeam and doesn’t have the allure that Obama does/did. My thought was that there must be enough of us appalled over the thought of having Meg Whitman (who sees herself as the second coming of Reagan), that we might send in donations to help get him elected.

    Does the Democratic party share email addresses? Is Jerry not internet savy? Why are they not knocking on my email door with pleas to save California and elect Jerry? None of us are sure whether Jerry is up to the task of solving California’s woes, but he has done a crediable job elsewhere, and living in Hayward, saw a vast improvement in Oakland under his leadership.

    I wouldn’t mind throwing a few alms in Jerry’s bucket, but I would at least like to see an effort for him to find us. Perhaps you could remind him that the internet is alive and well and that we are here waiting to hear from him.

    Thanks for the great articles. We are now in the process of electing a new supervisor for District 2 in Alameda County. I have known Gail Steele for years and will be sorry to see her leave. We have N. Lockyer, L. Figueroa, K. Dowling, and M. Green running to replace her. We went to a candidate’s night last night. Interesting group of people running to replace a woman who can’t be replaced. Of further interest (to those wanting to start a political reality show) is our school board election where we have our former city manager being selected to fill an empty seat, and the latest city manager (who has resigned) and a city councilmember (not running for council again), and possibly a former mayor, all running for the school board. Political ambitions have finally hit our school board elections, and the sub stories around the people involved would make a fine reality show.

    Anyway, enough of crazy Hayward and please keep up the great articles.

    Jodie G

    Posted by: Jodie G. | April 11th, 2010 at 8:29 am

  • By comparison Jerry’s administration years ago was the epitome of what California is supposed to be. Back then, California was the Golden state that people all over the world aspired to come to. What a mess Republicans of your ilk have wrought !

    Posted by: Aoplo K. | April 11th, 2010 at 8:30 am

  • Your columns: Love them, agree with them, and look forward to many more. Thank you much.

    Posted by: Norma V. | April 11th, 2010 at 8:30 am

  • Hello Clint, I enjoy reading you column. I liked your analysis of Meg vs. Jerry and the money issues.

    Posted by: D.K. | April 11th, 2010 at 8:31 am

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