Brown's staff tries to work out kinks

March 21, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- "We have got to get schedules!" Jerry Brown's press aide shouted over the phone to campaign headquarters in California.

Mark Nykanen was exasperated. His boss was finally attracting major media attention in the wake of Paul E. Tsongas' departure from the presidential race, but the press could not find out where the candidate would be.

The incident helps illustrate the difficulties Mr. Brown's loosely organized campaign faces now that he is the only remaining Democrat challenging front-runner Bill Clinton.

With party officials declaring the Arkansas governor the near-certain nominee, Mr. Brown has little time to prove himself a credible alternative. And running a purposefully low-budget campaign that will not accept contributions exceeding $100, he also lacks resources and organization.

If he does not do well in Connecticut's primary Tuesday or in Wisconsin or New York on April 7, the media coverage he needs to get his message across will surely diminish.

No wonder Mr. Brown didn't celebrate Mr. Tsongas' decision to quit. The former California governor told reporters there would be no change in his strategy. At one point he said he never had one. "We take this campaign day by day," he confessed.

Mr. Brown is proceeding as if nothing had changed. Ignoring the pleas of party leaders that he is only helping President Bush, he continues to attack Mr. Clinton as the embodiment of all that is wrong with government.

Hours after Mr. Tsongas dropped out, Mr. Brown began circulating a new charge: that Mr. Clinton had played golf at a segregated club in Arkansas. Mr. Clinton, at a campaign stop in Hartford, Conn., on Thursday night, apologized.

But Mr. Brown pursued it again yesterday, telling reporters his rival"ought to explain why he's hobnobbing at a club" with no black members.

Everywhere he speaks, Mr. Brown contrasts his record as a two-term governor of the nation's most populous state with the Clinton record. He discounts Mr. Clinton's experience because of the comparatively small size of Arkansas and criticizes that state's record on workplace safety, the environment and taxes.

He also paints Mr. Clinton as a creature of big-money politics that, in Mr. Brown's view, corrupts government.

Contrasting himself with Mr. Clinton yesterday in an NBC interview, he said, "We have a clear confrontation and choice between business as usual, a political class that has been daily discredited by the American people, and the opportunity for a grass-roots revolution.

"I'm not here supported by lobbyists and the incumbents, the $1,000 donors that I think have captured our party. I'm here to galvanize a moral force to commit this nation to social and economic justice."

Later, at a rally at Bridgeport City Hall, he added a new characterization of Mr. Clinton: a "Shakespearean actor of unlimited flexibility who will do nothing to change the hardship and injustice of people in Connecticut."

Mr. Brown insists he is in the race to the end, which happens to be the June 2 primary in his home state. And he criticizes the "media and party hierarchy that wants to shut down party debate. . . . Reminds me of the Bolsheviks in Russia."

Despite the lack of schedules and communication lapses, Mr. Brown is able to find people in each state to coordinate campaign events, arrange interviews and transport his small entourage of aides and reporters.

He is cultivating labor and reaching out to minorities. He is embracing the agenda of the Rainbow Coalition and says the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson would be his first choice for vice president.

When he espouses power to the people, he sounds like a '60s radical, but his message is also crafted to appeal to fiscal conservatives.

He boasts of transforming California from the third-highest taxing state to 24th. He says his proposal for a flat income tax and a value-added tax would lower the tax bill of middle-income Americans.

But he has not come close to attracting the support enjoyed by Mr. Clinton. And his candidacy has never surmounted the electability issue he hurls at Mr. Clinton.

With Mr. Tsongas gone, winnability seems uppermost in the minds of many people who do not like Mr. Clinton. Mr. Brown found that out in a hurry while attending a breakfast meeting with minority leaders in Hartford on Thursday.

After an aide interrupted to announce that Mr. Tsongas was abandoning the race later that day, one of the community leaders put the question to Mr. Brown.

The "bottom line" is ameliorating problems, said Larry Charles. "Doing it with a candidate who won't win won't solve those problems."

"I think I have a real chance to win" in Connecticut and elsewhere, Mr. Brown responded. "It only takes winning a few states, when the states are the ones that are left," he added.

Mr. Brown sounded less confident when another questioner wanted to know whether the candidate's commitment to change might end with his campaign.

"We don't stop," Mr. Brown said. "Because I don't believe that one politician can change anything. I don't believe that, even if someone gave me $10 million and Bill Clinton got into a problem and George Bush stepped on his toe and they elected me. Unless we really build a continuing movement of moral force."

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