George Gorton, who is managing Gov. Pete Wilson's reelection campaign, doesn't worry about the future.
The 47-year-old political consultant's state of calm is partly a result of recent poll numbers that show Wilson ahead of his challenger, state Treasurer Kathleen Brown. But truth be known, Gorton says, he hasn't really worried since 1985, when he hooked up with an Asian monk called Buddhadassa, learned to meditate and succeeded, for the first time, in silencing his mind.
Yes, that's right. Wilson's most trusted campaign adviser--the man who has repeatedly sought to discredit Brown this year by linking her to the "Moonbeam" reputation of her brother Jerry Brown--has a mantra. And if not for advice he sought from a Tibetan guru known as the 47th Reincarnation of the Precious Destroyer of Illusions, Gorton says he might not be running Wilson's reelection bid at all.
The revelation is surprising coming from a man who is described by those who know him as one of the most driven, go-for-the-jugular consultants in California politics. Many say that he is responsible for some of Wilson's harshest campaign rhetoric and that he is willing to do virtually whatever it takes to win. After 24 years in politics, the bearded, twice-divorced Republican has a tough-guy image--not a mystical one.
But Gorton, whose early career was tarnished by Watergate, says he is misunderstood. To hear him tell it, he is on a search for truth--a search that in December, 1992, led him to the Che Waung monastery in Nepal to meet the Tibetan wise man.
"I was asking him about whether or not I should do this campaign. I said, 'I'm very torn,' " Gorton said, recalling how the guru threw the moe --a fortune-telling ritual--three times before giving his answer. Then, through an interpreter, he told Gorton: "It doesn't matter what you do because your life is going to change dramatically in two years anyway."
Sitting in his office, where a large photo of his four-year-old son, A.J., and a framed batik of Siddhartha hang on the wall, Gorton said he is readying himself for the prophesy to come true this December. He has sold Direct Communication, the successful telemarketing firm that helped make him a millionaire. And win or lose, after the Nov. 8 election he is considering chucking politics altogether.
"I want to be open to anything," he said. "It's not that I don't like what I do. I do. But it is sort of a warrior's profession. And I'm heading into a period in my life where I may want to be . . . more of a healer than a warrior."
Gorton's thoughts of quitting come precisely as his talents are being widely recognized. This campaign has been grueling. In May, 1993, the incumbent was 23 points behind. A recent Times poll put Wilson nine points ahead, and even Democrats say Gorton deserves credit for deciding on a campaign message and sticking to it.
"One of the things that consultants for incumbents often forget is that you have the ability to integrate into your campaign what's happening in government," said Bill Cavala, a consultant to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). "George made sure (to do that). . . . Last month, every day (Wilson) signed a little package of legislation, that shows the governor is on top of something. . . . It's a good campaign. It's focused. I've seen few do it as well."
Gorton's relationship with Wilson is unusually close and, as a result, the role he plays in the campaign is unlike that of many political consultants. Part of that is a result of how long they've known each other. Gorton has played key roles in Wilson's five statewide campaigns and was manager of three.
Brown hired her current campaign chairman, Clint Reilly, just seven months ago. The contrasts don't end there. Reilly's style is to be in control of everything: His firm not only presides over campaign strategy but also produces the television commercials and designs Brown's campaign mailers.
Gorton has a more modest role and a gentler touch. The rhetoric of Wilson's campaign may be harsh at times, but Gorton-the-manager resembles less a dictator than a chairman of the board. Some say his greatest talent is encouraging fruitful debate. And he does it for $20,000 a month (Reilly's firm will make at least $1 million from the race).
Larry Thomas, a longtime Wilson adviser who is senior counsel to the 1994 campaign, calls Gorton "a person who prefers consensus to giving orders." Sometimes, Gorton--who has been known to spend months trekking in the Himalayas and who once, years ago, experimented briefly with Scientology--will use his unconventional experiences to try to draw out his staff.
"He might say in a meeting, 'This is something I learned in est training,' " Don Sipple, Wilson's media consultant, said with a laugh. "This is not a guy who has incense burning in his house and has a Nehru jacket on and then slips into a Brooks Brothers suit and Hermes tie to come to work. This is not a dual life. It is one."