Sunday, November 1, 2009

Old Brown, Not Newsom

Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco has withdrawn from the race for the 2010 Democratic nomination for governor of California. He was unable to translate his popularity in his city to a base for a statewide candidacy. Newsom found himself short of those two interrelated commodities that are necessary for such an effort: poll numbers and money.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown is now considered to be the likely Democratic nominee, even though he has not formally declared his candidacy. Yes, that Jerry Brown.

Brown was the boy wonder of both California and national politics, when he was elected governor in 1974, at the age of 36, succeeding Ronald Reagan. Then, in 1976, he ran a credible campaign for president in the Democratic primaries, but was unable to overcome the early lead that Jimmy Carter had established. Brown's subsequent presidential candidacies were less serious.

Brown was reelected governor in 1978. In 1982, he lost the general election for the U.S. Senate seat that Republican Pete Wilson, who was then mayor of San Diego, went on to hold for eight years, before Wilson was elected governor.

Brown returned to electoral politics some years later, and served as mayor of Oakland from 1999 to 2007. In 2006, he was elected to his current office, that of state attorney general.

If he is elected governor next year, there will have been a 28-year gap between his second and third terms in that job. He will be 72, which would make Brown the oldest governor in California's history.

Brown might not like the comparison, but I am reminded of the case of Donald Rumsfeld, who was both the youngest and the oldest secretary of defense. He was 43, when Gerald Ford appointed him to that job in 1975; Rumsfeld stayed on until the end of Ford's presidency, in 1977. Then, in 2001, at the age of 68, Rumsfeld was returned to that position by George W. Bush. But even Rumsfeld's 24-year absence from the Pentagon is shorter than Brown's sabbatical from the governorship would be.

It's not certain that Brown will continue to have the Democratic field to himself. There is some speculation that, in the wake of Newsom's withdrawal, another mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, might make the race, which he has considered, but, so far, has ruled out.

No comments: