Brown draws the young, not the party professionals

GERMOND & WITCOVER

March 07, 1992|By GERMOND & WITCOVER

Miami There seem to be sharp generational and cultural differences in attitudes toward Jerry Brown, who has been one of the many surprises of the Democratic primary campaign.

Mr. Brown has become something of an instant cult hero to voters who disdain the political system, many of them young independents who have been attracted by his display of iconoclasm and have been responsible for his surprising successes in Maine and Colorado.

By contrast, those who remember his history in two terms as governor of California -- including most of the leaders and professionals in the Democratic Party -- still think of him as "Governor Moonbeam" and distrust his preachy dedication to cleaning up the political financing system. In their eyes, Mr. Brown has always been an intellectual faddist.

As governor, he was a determined individualist who disdained conventional politics. But he left the arena only after losing a Senate campaign and two attempts to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

He was the devout liberal who embraced the Proposition 13 tax-limit initiative in California once it became apparent it would be approved. That 180-degree reversal earned him a reputation for being "unreliable," the ultimate sin in politics.

Then, after another hiatus to find himself, Mr. Brown returned to California and threw himself into winning election as Democratic Party state chairman. He embraced nuts-and-bolts politics, declaring once again that he had been wrong the first time.

But even before completing his term, he soured on that #i approach and quit to run for the Senate. He decided to borrow the technique used by Gov. Lawton Chiles of Florida in 1990 and put a $100 ceiling on contributions to his campaign.

Before the ink had dried on that plan, he suddenly disdained the Senate and popped up as a presidential candidate taking advice from Patrick Caddell, the one-time boy wonder of opinion polling who had earned a reputation within the party for brilliance as a theoretician always looking for the perfect candidate.

As has often been the case, Mr. Caddell offered a valuable insight into the attitude of the electorate these days. Those young and independent voters have been particularly receptive to Mr. Brown's message that the political system has been corrupted by politicians becoming too reliant on big contributors. And he has sought to add to his constituency by, for example, embracing a 13 percent flat tax as a substitute for the current revenue system and suggesting that he would put Jesse Jackson on his ticket with him.

But Mr. Brown faces such implacable distrust and hostility among party leaders that it is impossible to see how he could be nominated.

Atlanta

The fine print suggests there may have been less than met the eye in Gov. Bill Clinton's runaway success in the Georgia primary last week. The final figures showed that Democratic turnout dropped about one-fourth from 1988 while the Republican vote rose slightly.

The answer seems to be that a significant number of conservative Democrats from small towns and rural areas left the party to vote for Patrick J. Buchanan in the Republican primary. And the black vote was only about half of what Jesse Jackson brought out four years ago.

Neither finding is particularly surprising. But Mr. Clinton's case for himself as a Democratic candidate who can cut into the Republican base in the South rests on the premise that he can hold those conservative white voters while also maximizing the black vote.

Dallas

Paul Tsongas' whole campaign is based on the thesis that voters will face up to reality on taxes in the interest of long-term economic health. That notion is being tested quite directly in the primaries here and in Florida, where the Clinton campaign is trying to exploit Mr. Tsongas' plan for raising gasoline taxes 3 cents to 5 cents a gallon a year over a decade.

The life style in both states involves a lot of driving, and that has made politicians wary. As Garry Mauro, the state land commissioner heading the Clinton campaign here, put it: "We beat people on a nickel gas tax in this state."

Mr. Tsongas may be recognizing the political realities. Asked by a reporter if gas taxes would really rise 50 cents a gallon in a Tsongas administration, he replied: "Only if I serve a third term."

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