Capitol Hill insiders are unconvinced that Hillary Clinton is a slam-dunk for the 2016 presidential nomination. One dark-horse candidate that Democratic consultants admire is California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Many think Clinton’s ties to increasingly unpopular President Obama would anchor her down in the general election. Critics, even those inside her own party, say that on her poorly received book jaunt, Clinton didn’t put forward new ideas — bad if you’re an already-too-familiar face. Since 1992 Clinton has been a visible first lady, New York senator and secretary of state. In her retirement, she’s a fixture on talk shows and travels throughout the country giving speeches.
Other prospects from the Democratic slate are being bandied about like former Vice President Al Gore, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Jim Webb, once the Republican Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, a one-term Virginia Democratic senator and a decorated Marine who, for his service in Vietnam, was awarded the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts.
But the most enthusiasm for a non-Clinton candidacy goes to Brown. NBC News White House Correspondent Chuck Todd predicted that Brown would be the “most likely” challenger to perceived frontrunner Clinton, even though he’s already run for president three times (1976, 1980, and 1992) and, if elected, would be 78 years old when inaugurated in 2017 and 82 at the end of his first term. Todd thinks Brown’s resume is the strongest among the liberal wing, which hails his turn-around of California and his popularity with Hispanic voters as evidence.
Brown’s influence on California voters to pass a tax on the state’s wealthiest residents, resolve the budget deficit, and revive the economy are particularly appealing to the Democratic National Committee, which embraces candidates with proven fiscal skills.
There’s interesting history between Brown and the Clinton family. Back in 1992, when presumptive nominee Bill Clinton arrived at the New York City National Convention, challenger Brown refused to endorse him. On the stump, Brown repeatedly referenced the alleged Arkansas scandals to discredit Clinton.
Today, Brown says any hard feelings he may once have harbored against the Clintons is yesterday’s news. Brown told Washington Post reporters that he’s ready to support Hillary if she decides to run. Sounding more like Clinton’s campaign manager than a potential rival, Brown said that she “has the presence, the experience and the support of the vast majority of Democrats in a way that I have not seen in my lifetime.”
Brown remains elusive about what his plans may be. He insists that he’s focused on his gubernatorial re-election bid against Republican Neal Kashkari. But it’s hard to put much stock in that; Brown leads Kashkari by 20 points in recent polling. When pressed though, Brown reluctantly confesses that if Clinton doesn’t step up — and some analysts think the task might be too great for her to tackle — it would be “silly” not to consider a run.
Not that Brown’s path would be easy. Digging beneath his well-publicized successes, Brown would have to defend against California’s 24-percent poverty level, the nation’s most elevated according to the Census Bureau. California’s high welfare usage and income inequality also represent fertile talking points for whoever might throw his (or her) hat into the ring against Brown.
One thing is certain: California’s big money, and there’s plenty of it, will be solidly behind Brown.
Joe Guzzardi was a California gubernatorial candidate in 2003. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.