KENOSHA, Wis. -- Former Gov. Jerry Brown of California, fresh from his upset victory over Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in Connecticut, looked out at a jam-packed crowd of cheering University of Wisconsin-Parkside students in an atrium of the student union.
"This is a hot crowd!" Brown exclaimed, surveying the scence with that look of a thin, prediatory young hawk that he has displayed ever since he pushed himself forward on the political stage more than two decades ago.
With the same eagerness to persuade that has marked that career from the start, Brown then plunged into a hot message to match the temperature of his audience. Much if not most of his new-found success has been attributed to public doubts about Clinton rather than to the force and credibility of his own message, but that interpretation has not cooled his ardor in the least for what he passionately calls his campaign "to take America back."
Here as in all of his campaign stops, Brown hammered at business-as-usual, special-interest politics and politicians, lumping them together as his target and tying them to Clinton like an old tin can tied to a scrambling cat. Although Clinton has never been in Congress, Brown talked of "midnight pay raises" voted in secret by Congress and "check-kiting" by its members in the same breath with his indictment of Clinton as a "right-to-work, union-busting, scab-inviting" governor not worthy of support in this strong labor state.
Brown has always done well with student audiences, so the raucous reception his remarks received here may be misleading. Crowds hanging from the rafters, as well, often indicate curiosity more than support. But there seemed little doubt that Brown at U of W-Parkside struck the chord of voter frustration erupting everywhere with his missionary appeal for "we the people" to reclaim their government. The same was the case later at the Racine Labor Center, where local union officials and members ignored the neutrality of their international unions and declared their support for Brown, wearing a blue union jacket as he spoke.
As Wisconsin's April 7 presidential primary approaches, Brown sees a clear opportunity to repeat his Connecticut upset here on the same day he and Clinton face off in the more highly publicized New York primary. A victory in Wisconsin could give Brown some solace if he loses in New York, and would be icing on the cake if he won there, with a double setback really sending the Clinton campaign reeling.
Brown's hot message hasn't changed much since he launched his campaign outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia last fall with a fervent -- some said overblown -- appeal to voters' reverence for the Founding Fathers and the eloquent guiding principles they laid down for a republic that Brown says now has lost its way.
What has changed, in addition to his targeting on Clinton as the embodiment of all the corrupting influences that have taken hold of the political process, is the aura that moderate success has brought Brown and his campaign.
No longer is he the lonesome voice in the wilderness, the brunt of "Governor Moonbeam" cracks, in search of a willing ear into which to deliver his pitch for national resurrection. Now, by the process of elimination the last Clinton challenger standing, Brown travels with an entourage of network and local television cameramen that lends excitement to voters seeing the presidential campaign extravaganza for the first time.
At the same time, funds from his once-laughable, now-productive 800 telephone number are coming in at a rate sufficient for Brown to lease his own planes and take on some of the other trappings of the high-powered campaigns that only weeks ago he was deriding.
To the dismay of party national Chairman Ron Brown and others, he continues to trash Clinton and the whole existing political process with the same abandon he employed when he was that ignored voice in the wilderness.
To expect him, now that he is riding higher than before, to cool the hot message is to fail to comprehend that in-your-face rhetoric is the fuel that drives the Brown campaign, and will continue to do so as long as it endures.