Can Jerry Brown Make it MoonBeam II in Calif.?

Washington Matters

Can Jerry Brown Make it MoonBeam II in Calif.?

Who would want to fill Arnold Schwarzenegger's shoes as governor of California next year? Lots of people, apparently.

You'd think no one would want the job, with the Republican governor struggling to straighten out a $41 billion deficit...around one-third of the state's budget. He is virtually ignored by his Republican colleagues, who express horror at the tax increases he proposed. And the Democratic majority in the legislature want nothing to do with the drastic budget cuts he came up with. It's the same budget mess that got his predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis, recalled from office in a free-for-all election that ended with the Governator on top in 2003..

None of that is stopping an array of California politicians from lining up already for the 2010 election to run the world's seventh largest economy. The biggest name is Jerry Brown, who already knows what the job entails, having held the job from 1975 to 1983. He has a good chance to be both the oldest and the youngest governor in the state's history. He'll be 72 in 2010 and was 45 last time he held the office. It's so long ago that some of his missteps as "Governor Moonbeam" as he was nicknamed, will be lost on younger voters. He has altered his image in recent years from a spacey spiritualist to a more practical mayor, who improved the business climate in Oakland before getting elected to his current job, attorney general. Global warming is his issue, a popular one that has little downside for politicians in California. He has raised $3 million, a big war chest that's at least 10 times bigger than that of any of his rivals.

Brown is a clear front-runner, with many of his potential opponents burdened with heavy baggage. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has his eye on the job, but he's tainted by troubles in L.A.'s school district and an affair with an L.A. television reporter. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom appears to want the job, but he's taking hits statewide for the illegal same-sex marriages he performed on the city hall steps. In San Francisco, he's considered conservative, but not in the rest of the state. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi is also a top contender but needs more money in a large state with multiple TV markets. He'll tout his previous record as insurance commissioner in cracking down on insurance companies and keeping workers' comp rates low. Overshadowing all of these candidates is  Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who could probably have the governorship for the asking, but she'll be 77 in 2010, and she probably won't run because of her new high-profile job as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Among Republicans, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has the edge in a race made up entirely of Silicon Valley figures. The former tech entrepreneur is wealthy enough to fund much of his race. As the only statewide GOP officeholder besides Schwarzenegger, he donated millions to help the party with redistricting reform and Republican registration drives. He is moderate on social issues and has portrayed himself as an insurance reformer. His biggest threat is eBay ex-CEO Meg Whitman, who advised Sen. John McCain during his presidential bid. She has the appeal of being a woman and the perception that she is a maverick Republican in a state where the party is in retreat. But she'd have to win over conservatives in the primary and then swing back to the left to appeal to independents and moderates in November. Also in the running is Tom Campbell, a former congressman representing Silicon Valley and former director of finance for Schwarzenegger. He'll have trouble attracting conservatives.

A Brown-Poizner race appears to be in the offing unless Whitman can put on an exceptionally strong campaign. And despite Brown's name recognition, Poizner has the edge in early handicapping. California is a blue state, but voters tend to like the checks and balances of a legislature of one party and executive of another. Money and moderation also favor Poizner.