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CAPITOL JOURNAL

Brown Follows Roots, Finds Campaign Trail

May 05, 1994|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — Shortly before she formally announced her candidacy for governor in February, Treasurer Kathleen Brown visited her ailing 88-year-old father, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. She told of her plans for a two-day kickoff tour and asked how he'd started his own first gubernatorial race back in 1958.

It was a turning point in her campaign.

"He got this great grin," she recalls. "He said, 'I went right up to the Oregon border, stood behind the Welcome to California sign and announced, California, here I come. I'm running for governor.' "

Then he stumped south, down through the state. Pat Brown loved bounding along the campaign trail. In those days, before big buys of 30-second TV spots, that's how you ran for office.

Kathleen Brown took off on her two-day tour and found she loved the trail, too. And she began talking to aides about her father's campaign.

Her strategists "had this bunker mentality," one aide says. "They were going to keep Kathleen locked inside a room" and, except for an occasional speech, focus on TV ads. The spots are all that really matter today, many consultants think.

"Kathleen did some old-fashioned campaigning and realized this stuff is in her blood," the aide continues. "It's like a drug to her. It gives her energy and more confidence. She finally rebelled and the fist came down on the table. She said, 'I want to be out there.' "

*

Being tied to a tether was one of the final frustrations that prompted Brown to shake up her staff and recruit new advisers. She realized the critics were right--her campaign lacked focus and she was slipping. Brown had a second debut at the Democratic state convention in mid-April and she's been on the trail virtually ever since.

On Saturday, she'll park her automobile and board an old fashioned campaign bus, except this one will be decked out like some country singer's with swivel chairs, tables, phones and refreshments. Brown's first stop will be in San Bernardino County, where unemployment remains high and working class Democrats provide a battleground for swing voters--and presumably a receptive audience for her "one million new jobs" theme.

Brown's new campaign manager, Clinton Reilly, packs around a foot-high "count book--my bible"--that tells him where to find the voters she'll need to win the June and November elections. The book contains numbers and locations of registered voters by practically every demographic group--gender, race, marital status, age and income, plus likelihood of voting.

The count book will be Brown's electoral road map as she campaigns by bus, up and down the state, on most days until the June 7 primary.

The way Brown sees it, slogging the trail may be old fashioned, but it also reflects '90s necessities.

"Grass-roots campaigning--region by region--is the only way I can win this race," Brown says, referring to the fall battle she expects with Gov. Pete Wilson.

"I can do the TV (ads)--that's a given. But I've got to do the grass-roots because we have a fragmented market today. There aren't brand loyalties in politics. People want to know specifically what I can do in their area.

"You can't do it just by TV. Technology really has changed society. People watch cable more. They've got the clicker and they surf."

*

Of course, a candidate with the fund-raising prowess of Kathleen Brown isn't forced to make priority choices. She can afford it all--grass-roots, sophisticated field work and expensive television.

Her latest TV ads hit Wednesday. The plan is to run different spots in major markets every day until the primary--at a cost of $3 million to $4 million. They'll promote her record as treasurer, attack Wilson's economic performance and pitch her jobs plan. She likely also will run radio ads tweaking her main Democratic opponent, Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

Most of the recent jabbing at Brown--by political opponents and the news media--has been aimed at her jobs plan.

Perhaps the most devastating, oft-repeated comment came from an anonymous economist, who was quoted calling Brown's plan "a no-brainer" because one million jobs should be created automatically during the next four years. Dr. Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, believes he is the source for that blind quote and says it was misinterpreted.

"It's not a no-brainer," he says. "Projections of that many new jobs are predicated on the state getting its act together. The governor has an important role to play."

By hitting both the trail and television, Brown is trying to bypass political reporters and blind quotes and take her message straight to the voters. "I love it out here," she says from her car phone.

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