California Democrats are already mobilizing for a critical 1994 state election in which they hope to solidify their 1992 victories and complete a grand slam of top offices by snatching the governorship, perhaps with a woman candidate.
The early betting is that the 1994 general election will feature incumbent Republican Gov. Pete Wilson against either state Treasurer Kathleen Brown or state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.
"The governor's race is on," said Sacramento developer Phil Angelides, who will step down in April as Democratic state chairman and, party insiders say, possibly become a candidate for state treasurer or other statewide office.
"Between now and 1994, he (Wilson) has his work cut out for him," Angelides said. "On the other hand, he is a capable person and the power of a sitting governor is never to be underestimated. My view is the 1994 governor's race is going to be a hard one for us to win."
The results of the 1992 election have not been certified and the winners have yet to take the oath of office. But the game of high-stakes musical chairs for 1994 is beginning because of the planning and effort it takes to run a successful statewide race in California. Using back channels and insider speculation, some prospective candidates seek to have themselves portrayed in advance as formidable contenders in hopes of scaring off challengers.
There is little secret, however, that U.S. Sen.-elect Dianne Feinstein is expected to begin running almost immediately for a full six-year term after her victory last Tuesday for the right to serve the last two years of the Senate term originally won by Wilson in 1988.
Republicans and Democrats said they consider Feinstein, who ousted interim Republican Sen. John Seymour, to be about as invulnerable to challenge as a California officeholder can be.
Those being mentioned as potential Feinstein challengers include Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Palo Alto), who lost to television commentator Bruce Herschensohn in the June primary; former Rep. Ed Zschau, who lost a narrow race to retiring Democrat Alan Cranston in 1986; Rep. David Dreier (R-La Verne) and Rep. Chris Cox (R-Newport Beach).
After suffering from the summer budget impasse in Sacramento, Gov. Wilson went into the election with a historic low public approval rating. He came out of it with a severe drubbing, including the loss of his welfare and budget reform initiative, the failure to make expected GOP gains in the Legislature and Congress, and the defeat of Seymour, his handpicked U.S. Senate successor.
The high-profile 1992 election was unique in California because both the state's U.S. Senate seats were at stake, and were won by Democratic women--Feinstein and Rep. Barbara Boxer of Marin County. The campaign also captured public attention because of a spirited presidential contest marked by the independent challenge of Ross Perot.
But the so-called off-year elections are big ones in California because the governorship and the other seven statewide constitutional offices are at stake, along with all 80 Assembly seats, half of the 40 state Senate seats and all of California's 52 seats in the House of Representatives.
Republicans have held the governorship for 18 of the last 26 years. The only Democrat to break the string was Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., Kathleen's older brother, in 1975-83.
If Kathleen Brown and Garamendi both seek the governorship, as many as four of the eight state offices would be open seats in 1994. There would be five if Controller Gray Davis decided not to run for a third term. That would provide an opportunity, and temptation, to ambitious state legislators who will soon face term limits imposed by voters in the 1990 election.
Two vacancies are certain. Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy and state schools chief Bill Honig have announced that they will not seek reelection. Brown and Garamendi would have to give up their current offices if they decide to run for governor.
A spokesman for Brown said it is premature to discuss her political plans for 1994, but acknowledged that supporters have urged her to consider running. Garamendi could not be reached for comment. Davis also said it is too early to think about 1994, but added, "I have no plans to retire" from public life.
There have been rumors that Republican Atty. Gen. Daniel E. Lungren might run for the Senate or for governor in 1994, but his brother and political consultant, Brian, said Thursday that Lungren will seek a second term as head of the state Department of Justice.
Democrat March Fong Eu is almost certain to run for a sixth term as secretary of state, aides said.
Another story making the rounds among insiders was that Lt. Gov. McCarthy might resign from office early to go into business or to receive a possible ambassadorship in the Clinton Administration. McCarthy said Friday that he had no such plans.