SACRAMENTO — One is the son of a Fresno County farmer, the other the progeny of a dynastic political family.
Dissimilarities etch the lives and policy positions of Republican state Sen. Chuck Poochigian and his Democratic opponent in the campaign for state attorney general, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, the mercurial former California governor and frequent presidential aspirant.
The pair have waged this election season's most clamorous battle. They've accused each other of flip-flops befitting a big-time wrestling match. Crime-fighting chops and character questions have become central themes in the contest to command the 1,100 attorneys in the state's Department of Justice.
In the homestretch, the 68-year-old Brown has ridden his status as a venerable political celebrity to a healthy lead -- 15 points among likely voters in the most recent public polls.
But in Poochigian the GOP has a campaigner who vows to stay on the attack until election day Tuesday, despite dwindling funds for advertising and a reputation as a nice guy reluctant to throw mud.
"I remain convinced I'm going to win," the Fresno Republican says.
Brown has spent his two mayoral terms attempting to recast his image as a crime fighter more interested in fixing public infrastructure than tilting at political windmills. Now he vows to be a "practical" and "common sense" attorney general.
"I love the law," he said. "And I think the law is being undermined. We need to strengthen our Western legal tradition, emphasize the norms that give our society identity, structure."
On Tuesday, Brown and Poochigian brought their campaigns to Los Angeles for dueling news conferences almost within earshot of each other.
Brown appeared with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton, adding the two high-profile leaders to his list of endorsements. His experience as a former governor and Oakland mayor, Villaraigosa said, makes Brown "somebody who knows the needs of city police departments."
Minutes later, Poochigian held an impromptu news conference on a nearby street corner, repeating his criticism of Brown's credentials for attorney general amid a sharp rise in Oakland's murder rate. Poochigian highlighted his own endorsements from the California Peace Officers Assn. and the California State Sheriff's Assn., among others.
For months, Poochigian has hit Brown with accusations new and three decades old. He portrays Brown as a flaky extremist, a man long opposed to the death penalty who has watched over a stratospheric murder spike this year in Oakland.
In turn, Brown has characterized Poochigian as a hard-right fanatic who opposed a ban on high-powered sniper rifles and fought the state's successful 2004 ballot measure to publicly fund stem cell research, frequently sides against environmental interests and opposes abortion rights.
But around the Capitol, Poochigian is better known for collegiality than ideology. Friends say he's as consistent as his favorite breakfast cereal: oatmeal.
His grandparents fled the Armenian genocide and the family eventually settled amid the grape fields of Fresno County. Poochigian, 57, grew up in Lone Star, a speck of a farm community along the railroad tracks southeast of Fresno.
After attending Cal State Fresno and law school, Poochigian became a business lawyer. He broke into politics in 1978, volunteering for George Deukmejian's successful attorney general campaign, then became a gubernatorial aide to the conservative Deukmejian and later to Gov. Pete Wilson.
In private life, Poochigian has survived a few rough patches.
Around the time he first ventured into politics, he lost more than $100,000 in a failed business deal in Gusher Oil Co., a firm that drilled mostly in Texas. He and his partners were sued for nonpayment of a loan. It was "a bad investment," he says today, that cost him more than his share to settle debts owed by a few investors who walked away.
Among his partners in Gusher Oil was attorney Richard Wyrick.
Poochigian rented his first office from the older man. When a Wyrick agricultural partnership was sued in 1983 in a dispute over $150,000 in rent on a farm, Poochigian represented him, settling the lawsuit.
Wyrick later ran afoul of the law and is serving a six-year sentence in Soledad state prison for pilfering clients' trust funds.
"I haven't talked to or seen that guy in 20 years," Poochigian said. "I didn't even know he was in prison."
After years as a respected gubernatorial staffer, Poochigian ran for the Assembly in 1994 and won easily. He moved to the Senate in 1998, earning plaudits as a straight shooter who rarely strayed from the conservative cause.
During his tenure, he has backed tougher penalties for sexual predators, gun-toting felons and identity thieves. He also has opposed legislative efforts to roll back the state's three-strikes law.