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Four suggestions for Jerry Brown's struggling campaign

by Bob Morris, published

A CBS 5 KPIX poll on July 12 had Whitman ahead of Brown by 7%.  Just two weeks ago, a poll had Brown ahead by 6.  Sure, polls can skitter a bit, but the trend definitely shows Whitman surging and Brown faltering. Brown’s positive ratings have been falling steadily too, which is never a good sign. 

It should not be this way. California is a heavily Democratic state. Jerry Brown should be way ahead. But he’s not. In fact, he appears to be slipping.  Part of the problem of course is that Meg Whitman can self-finance her campaign by spending tens of millions of her own money while Brown has to scuffle to raise money.

But, that masks a bigger problem, one that is becoming apparent to many, including Democrats. Jerry Brown is running an inept campaign. His website has been quirky.  The same is true of his campaign. He still has said nothing meaningful about the California budget crisis. Meanwhile Whitman is relentlessly focused on jobs, spending, and education. She stays on message, something Brown can’t do because he doesn’t have a message.

If he does have one, I can’t discern it. Can you? 

Instead, we get emanations from Jerry that sound like something from The Onion. For example, he invited Whitman to his house for tea so they could talk about the next debate. No, really, he actually proposed that during a radio interview. Gosh, the state has a $19 billion deficit and he wants to have tea.  A Whitman spokesperson replied “"Meg will pass on Governor Brown's gracious invitation to visit his Oakland Hills mansion. She doesn't want to distract Brown on the off chance that he actually decides to come up with some policy proposals." Ouch.  

Jerry Brown always has been an outsider and has run unusual campaigns. So could all this be a cunning Muhammad Ali-style rope-a-dope strategy where he lets Whitman pummel him on the ropes until she’s exhausted, then he rebounds and knocks her out? If so, well, he’s right on track and is definitely at the getting pummeled stage now. 

Given the huge gap in their finances, Brown can either fire all of his guns now or wait until the closing weeks when everyone is paying attention, and hope it won’t be too late by then. He’s obviously chosen to wait. He will almost certainly attack Whitman for her past ties to Goldman Sachs, which includes being on their board and funneling eBay business to Goldman in return for insider access to IPO offerings. Or maybe he won’t.  His sister is the West Coast head of municipal finance for Goldman. The City of Oakland entered disastrous interest rate swaps with Goldman in 2003 while he was mayor, something which has cost them many extra millions of dollars. 

Maybe he’s running a stealth campaign, biding his time. But he just doesn’t seem particularly focused or even interested in being governor. 

Here are my suggestions for the Brown campaign: 

•    Make specific policy proposals.  The economy is feeble and unemployment is way too high. Tell us what you will do to change this. 

•    Explain your plans to balance the budget.  The State of California budget is a continuing train wreck. How will you fix it? 

•    Get serious. Quirkiness has its limits, especially in a brutal economy. 

•    Get focused and stay focused, or else eMeg will be the next governor of California. She’s not making mistakes, you are making way too many.

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