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CAPITOL JOURNAL

Brown Readies Plan for the Stretch Run

October 06, 1994|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — The Brown campaign gets it. The brain trust has seen the polls. Voters are saying something important: They don't understand the candidate.

They're asking, just who is this latest Brown? What would she be like as governor? Like her father Pat, the builder? Or her brother Jerry, the rebel? Does she stand for anything?

With less than five weeks to go before the election, Treasurer Kathleen Brown--proud member of California's most famous political family--remains a mystery for millions of voters. And not a very compelling mystery at that, despite the personal charm.

"People know what they don't like about the status quo, but they don't know enough about her," concedes Brown spokesman Bill Rukeyser. "They're ready for clear, understandable information that makes her an attractive alternative to a man next to nobody likes."

The aide admits, "Polls show people are unhappy with Kathleen. They don't know what she stands for."

In some ways, this is developing into a contest of Brown vs. Brown--Kathleen vs. Jerry. That's clearly the contest Gov. Pete Wilson and his strategists are promoting with their attacks on Jerry's judicial appointments. It's as if he were running.

Kathleen Brown needs to get the electorate focused on a fight between her and Wilson. She's behind in the polls--by nine points in The Times' mid-September survey--but voters still don't like the governor's job performance.

So Brown and her advisers have a plan: a plan, they say, to win the election and govern afterward; Wilson only has a plan to get reelected. That's their new theme.

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You can read all about Brown's plan for "Building a New California" in a new 62-page booklet that's to be the centerpiece of her comeback campaign.

It's a dusted off and updated version of various old speeches on the Democratic candidate's proposals for rebuilding the economy, fighting crime, improving schools and stopping illegal immigration. Reporters have had this stuff for months and basically have ignored it, Brown strategists contend. That's not entirely true, but it certainly hasn't gotten the attention the candidate wanted.

So today she'll begin distributing at least a million copies by mail, at rallies, on street corners and house to house. They'll be targeted at swing voters, especially educated young women who don't always cast ballots.

Wilson's spinners already have begun to belittle the booklet. But nobody could leaf through it and still legitimately say that Brown doesn't stand for anything. She has enough proposals in there to satisfy the most tedious policy wonk.

It's a big campaign investment, costing well over a week's worth of TV ads. And it will be paired with new ads aimed at persuading voters that Brown isn't an empty suit.

"The key now is for Kathleen to break through with a strong positive image to counter Wilson's negative image," says campaign manager Clinton Reilly. "We don't need negative ads to win. Voters already dislike the guy."

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The obvious question is, why did they wait until now? Why weren't there more positive ads in the summer, when Brown was attacking Wilson on crime--his issue? This is a sore subject and you get mixed answers.

First, her aides say, occasional voters weren't paying attention. "There's no use in delivering a heart-rendering sermon if the congregation isn't in the church yet," says Rukeyser, while adding: "That's not to mean things weren't being rethought-out over the summer."

Reilly believes Brown had no choice but to talk about crime because voters are angry about it. The same with illegal immigration. In fact, Reilly isn't swearing off all negative ads. He'll likely be running spots attacking Wilson's "hypocrisy" on immigration, citing his record as a U.S. senator.

Despite the projected Republican year nationally, Reilly insists Brown is in a good position to win. A Democratic field operation could boost her percentage of the vote by three points, he says, and Wilson will lose up to 7% because conservatives unhappy with him will opt for a third-party candidate. Also, he asserts, the governor has fired his best shots on crime and immigration, and voters will start seeking the candidates' positions on less emotional issues.

In that regard, several Democratic strategists think Brown/Reilly erred in not accepting Wilson's offer to debate on public TV. "Any port in a storm," one says. The candidate held out for commercial TV.

But there'll be time enough for more second guessing after Nov. 8.

For now, the Brown campaign has a message--for reporters, for contributors, for voters: The brain trust does know what it's doing. Brown does have ideas, goals and core beliefs. Don't give up on this candidacy. Nobody's voted yet.

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