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CAMPAIGN JOURNAL : Brown's Long Night's Journey Into Optimism : Candidate is buoyant as she travels state in wee hours. She says she is reaching real Californians one-on-one.

November 04, 1994|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just after midnight on Kathleen Brown's 30-hour, 1,499-mile marathon bus, van and plane tour, the candidate had an urge to dance.

"We've got to get some exercise!" the impossibly buoyant Brown chided her fellow travelers: a rumpled assembly of press and campaign staff that sat slumped Thursday in the seats of her northbound campaign bus.

They still had 13 hours to go--a long, chilly night that would include a truck stop, a chicken processing plant, two bakeries and countless swigs of mouthwash. But minutes outside Bakersfield, Brown had a hankering for country-Western dancing. If not for the intervention of a high-level adviser, she might well have ended up at a bar called the Funny Farm.

"You're running for governor," deputy campaign manager Michael Reese cautioned. "You don't want to walk into a roomful of drunks."

Brown was undaunted. "Nobody needs to know who I am," she said. "We could go incognito."

With all due respect to the state treasurer, whose face has made news and graced campaign advertisements for months, only a fool would suggest she could go anywhere unnoticed. Aboard her velour-upholstered coach were reporters from three newspapers, a Los Angeles television station and the Public Broadcasting System. Spotlights shone on literally every move she made, whether she was driving home a point about Gov. Pete Wilson's alleged inadequacies or brushing her teeth.

When Brown met up with her husband, Van Gordon Sauter, at the Flying J truck stop in Bakersfield at 1 a.m., their entire encounter was videotaped, even when husband told wife, "I thought you said this was a conjugal visit, for chrissakes."

Later, when Brown attempted to nap on the way to Fresno, the PBS documentary makers were immediately upon her. "If you don't have a picture of Pete Wilson doing this, you don't get one of me," she protested. But they got their shot: the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, a blanket pulled over her head.

Wilson's campaign had warned the media how grueling the sleep-deprived odyssey might be. Wilson's chief campaign spokesman, Dan Schnur--who nicknamed the event Brown's "Bataan Death March Bus Trip" but then switched it to "The Stick-a-Fork-in-Her Tour"--went so far as to type up suggested questions for reporters to ask Brown.

When Brown headed south, for example, his suggested query went like this: "According to the local polls, she's running more than 30 points behind in San Diego County. Question: Why are you here?"

But Brown, who made a dozen stops in as many cities from San Diego to San Francisco, seemed to be enjoying herself. So chipper was her mood that when she called in to Stephanie Miller's talk radio show on KFI-AM, Miller came right out and asked her: "Are they giving you Benzedrine or something?"

No, Brown said, she was just having fun. Among the great things the tour allowed her to do, she said: Reach out to real Californians one on one, get away from the frustrating format of 30-second campaign commercials and force several reporters who have been dogging her for months to experience very bad hair days.

Not that it was all so enjoyable. During the first few hours of the tour Wednesday, as the bus headed from Sacramento to Emeryville, the first casualty was reported: a smartly dressed prosecutor from San Diego who joined the tour to show her support but ended up fighting a battle with motion sickness--and losing.

"When you see somebody whose head is in the wastepaper basket, you know something is not right," Reese would say later.

All along the way, Brown was greeted with enthusiasm, whether the crowd was in the dozens or the hundreds. One man told her he had just become a citizen and was voting for the first time this year--for her. A night cashier said she had stayed a few hours after her shift to get an autographed copy of Brown's 62-page plan "Building a New California."

At 4:50 a.m., Gloria Keene, a supervisor in Merced County, asked Brown to help her raise a white flag in Merced's Bob Hart Square. "We are surrendering because Pete Wilson has bankrupted this county," she said, noting the loss of $22 million in property tax funds transferred from local coffers to help fund state programs over the last 10 years.

Back on the bus, campaign staffers amused themselves by playing charades, acting out favorite quotations of the election year. "America's Best Treasurer for America's Worst Economy"--one of Brown's many slogans--was guessed after the first clue.

Running a little behind schedule, Brown completed her tour in Los Angeles, at a get-out-the-vote rally at UCLA. The 29 hours had stretched into 30, the staff was punchy and the reporters were looking grim. But the candidate--unwrinkled in a fresh suit, her unwashed hair still somehow holding what Brown called its "froof"-- was going strong.

"Pete Wilson is going to regret the fact that he slept through this night," she said just before heading home for a quick nap before an evening fund-raiser. "It's the beginning of the end."

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