- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Get ready for “Governor Moonbeam: The Sequel.”

California Attorney General Jerry Brown made it official Tuesday, announcing that he’s running for the Democratic nomination for governor and offering himself as someone with “an insider’s knowledge and an outsider’s mind” to usher the troubled state into the post-Schwarzenegger era.

Mr. Brown’s bid, in what is likely to become one of the most expensive and closely watched governor’s races this year, comes 36 years after he was first elected governor at the age of 36. California law limits its governors to two terms, but Mr. Brown’s previous gubernatorial stint ran from 1975 to 1983 - before that law was passed.

In his first campaign, he ran on a youth-and-fresh-ideas platform to contrast himself with the previous governor, Republican Ronald Reagan. Three decades later, he’s playing the experienced hand, casting himself the seasoned Sacramento pro who knows what it takes to lift the state out of its economic morass left by another celebrity Republican, term-limited Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Our state is in serious trouble and the next governor must have preparation, knowledge and know-how,” said Mr. Brown in a videotaped announcement, recorded at his campaign office and released on his Web site.

His emphasis on “knowledge” appeared designed to separate himself from both Mr. Schwarzenegger and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Mr. Schwarzenegger had never served in public office before he was elected governor; Mrs. Whitman also is a newcomer to politics.

“Some people say that if you’ve been around the process, you can’t handle the job, that we need to go out and find an outsider who knows virtually nothing about state government,” said Mr. Brown. “Well, we tried that, and it doesn’t work. We found out that not knowing is not good.”

It’s a risky strategy in an election year that finds incumbents, particularly Democrats, in trouble with the voters. Then again, given that Mr. Brown has served two terms as governor, two as Oakland mayor, one as secretary of state and now serves as attorney general, it’s really his only play.

“Brown’s biggest challenge is running in a political landscape where voters have a strong anti-incumbent bias,” said Republican political analyst Dan Schnur. “He’s not the incumbent, but he has been involved in state politics for 40 years.”

In a statement, Mrs. Whitman said she welcomed Mr. Brown to the race, then lobbed a grenade at his lengthy record in a likely harbinger of the campaign to come.

“Jerry Brown has had a 40-year career in politics which has resulted in a trail of failed experiments, undelivered promises, big government spending and higher taxes,” said Mrs. Whitman.

“I look forward to the coming campaign debate over which path California will choose in the future; repeating the mistakes of the past or working together to build a new California with more jobs, less wasteful spending and greatly improved schools.”

Despite a lifetime in California politics and a family legacy as the son of an other California Democratic governor, almost nobody would describe Mr. Brown as a political insider. A onetime Jesuit novice, he famously rejected the mansion and limousine as governor, instead living in a small apartment and driving to work in a Plymouth. His embrace of new ideas and his willingness to stray from the Democratic Party line - as a presidential candidate in 1980, he backed the Balanced Budget Amendment - have contributed to his image as someone who’s either too pure or too weird for politics.

His “governing principles” as laid out in Tuesday’s video would be more at home at a “tea party” rally than a Democratic caucus. Mr. Brown vowed to voters he would always tell the truth, would refuse to raise taxes without a vote of the people, and would downsize state government by returning authority to cities, counties and school districts.

“The gamble is, Can he tout his experience while also playing up his credentials as an outsider?” said Mr. Schnur.

Whether he can have it both ways remains to be seen, but so far it seems to be working. A Rasmussen Reports survey released Feb. 16 showed him in a dead heat with Mrs. Whitman. In the same poll, Mr. Brown led state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, also running for the GOP nomination, by 46 to 34 percentage points.

The Republican primary is June 8. Unlike the Republicans, Mr. Brown has no challenger for the Democratic nomination, which allows him to husband his resources for the general election.

He’ll need all the resources he can get. Mrs. Whitman is a billionaire who’s already contributed $30 million to her campaign and raised another $10 million. Mr. Poizner, who entered the race Monday, is also independently wealthy and expected to contribute heavily to his own campaign.

Mr. Brown has raised about $12 million to date. He’ll have help from an independent group, Level the Playing Field 2010, which began running ads two weeks ago criticizing Mrs. Whitman.

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