If you like comeback stories, then you’ll love this one. It seems that 69-year-old Jerry Brown – the former two-term California Governor, two-term Oakland mayor, California state Democratic Party chairman, three-time failed presidential candidate, unsuccessful 1982 U.S. Senate candidate, and current state Attorney General – is eyeing another run for Governor in 2010.
This according to the Sacramento Bee, which interviewed Brown on Wednesday.
And, early as it is, he’s probably the front-runner to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will be term-limited out in ’10 (when he may challenge Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer): A March poll showed Brown, who was elected AG last fall, topping a crowded Democratic field with 31 percent – not entirely surprising, given his name recognition and the positive press he’s received over the last decade.
Brown, the son of two-term California Governor Pat Brown, has reinvented himself countless times in a fascinating political odyssey that spans four decades. He has repeatedly pursued the presidency, but in unorthodox ways, and his standing – in California and nationally – has risen and fallen dramatically over the years.
For veteran Brown-watchers, it’s not exactly a surprise that after his elevation to A.G. last fall – his first statewide win in California since 1978 – he’d reach for the governorship again. The question is whether he might be laying the groundwork for another, even more improbable White House run down the line. Ken Khachigian, a longtime G.O.P. consultant, predicted to the Bee that “If he ran for governor in 2010 and won, he’d start running for president in 2011.”
He may be long in the tooth, but a look at Brown’s career suggests he may have another national campaign in him.
He claimed the governorship for the first time in 1974, succeeding Ronald Reagan at the age of 36. Almost immediately, he set out to run for President, entering – and winning – a string of late spring primaries in 1976 in an effort to stake a claim at a brokered Democratic convention that never came (Jimmy Carter won a first ballot victory). He was re-elected Governor in 1978 and tried for the presidency again in 1980 – this time with a dour, almost apocalyptic message that failed to resonate. He left the governorship in 1982 – pursuing an unsuccessful Senate bid that year – and then spent the rest of the 1980s in exile, working with Mother Theresa for a stint. He returned to politics in 1989 as California’s Democratic chairman, but left that job after a year, swearing off big money. After flirting with a Senate bid in 1992, he instead decided to run – again – for President, this time refusing to accept donations greater than $100 and flogging, in every public appearance, a 1-800 number for contributions.
New Yorkers may remember the climactic showdown of that campaign. In late March – a week after Paul Tsongas had left the race, supposedly clearing the field for Bill Clinton – Brown pulled a stunning upset in the Connecticut primary, knocking off Clinton by one point. That set the stage for a do-or-die battle in New York, with national Democrats prepared to pull the plug on Clinton – who, as you may recall, was dogged by character questions – if he lost. Brown poured his heart into the New York campaign, tossing copies of the federal tax code into trash cans at rallies (a 13 percent flat income tax was his pet issue in ’92) and bashing Bill and Hillary at every stop. But on primary day, Clinton prevailed – and the nomination was essentially his.
After that loss, Brown disappeared from public view again. He moved to Oakland and in 1998 won the mayoralty there, convincing voters to switch to a “strong mayor” model in the process. His reforms – particularly in education — won him newfound mainstream respect and paved the way for his A.G. bid last year.
Now he’s using the powerful A.G.’s post to pursue a crusade against global warming, the perfect way to rack up headlines that should provide a seamless segue to a gubernatorial bid three years from now. It doesn’t matter if a Democrat wins the White House next year. If 2012 rolls around and Governor Jerry Brown wants to run, he’ll have a reason.