Determined Jerry Brown ready to challenge again ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

November 02, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

LOS ANGELES -- When the California Legislature recently advanced the date of the state's 1996 presidential primary from June to March, the chief beneficiary was widely seen to be President Clinton.

In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton won the Golden State handily and his approval rating here has been higher than in most other states. He has returned here often and has appeared to take a special interest in lifting California out of the depths of its recession, to the point of naming Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown to oversee federal efforts to enhance its economic recovery.

All this special attention has led New York's Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo to suggest only half jokingly that maybe his state should advance its 1996 presidential primary date, now scheduled for a week after California's.

When severe brushfires swept over Southern California last week, Clinton was quick to go on national television to announce federal disaster relief that he compared in scope to the federal aid to the flood-stricken Midwest earlier this year.

Clinton looks so good politically in California compared with how he stands in other states, in fact, that most of the speculation about the impact of California's new, earlier 1996 primary date has centered on the Republican Party.

Beyond a genuine interest in assisting a troubled megastate, however, the Clinton administration's focus on California suggests the White House is not unaware of how a March primary victory for Clinton in the nation's most populous state in 1996 could throttle any intraparty challenge to a president still on shaky grounds with the voters.

Who in Clinton's own Democratic Party, one might ask, would conceivably challenge him in California? One who is already thinking about it is the last Democratic survivor against him in 1992 -- former California Gov. Jerry Brown. Moving the primary date forward, he says, "doesn't make me think any less about it, I'll tell you that."

Although Clinton beat Brown in the 1992 California primary, adding to Brown's losing streak here after his defeat by Republican Pete Wilson for the 1982 U.S. Senate seat, hope seems to spring eternal in Brown's breast. Heartened by his surprising showing in some of the early and middle 1992 Democratic presidential primaries, and convinced that he has tapped into a growing public sentiment with his theme of the corrupting influence of money in politics, Brown continues to search for a way to affect the national political debate.

Much maligned as a perennial candidate who was a champion money-raiser as governor and then state party chairman in California before taking up that theme in the 1992 presidential campaign, Brown says that experience has opened his eyes about the state of American politics.

As long as there is an inequity among candidates in access to public opinion governed by money, he says, the country will remain in the hands of "elites" who are out of touch with the sentiments and desires of average voters.

Brown is writing a book on the corrupting influence of money in politics that will advocate such remedies as mandatory free television time to all candidates within a shortened campaign period in the British style.

At the same time he is seeking ways to break the inequity barrier he feels has impeded the success of his own message. One possible model for himself in style but not in substance, he acknowledges, is 1992 Republican presidential challenger Pat Buchanan.

Brown notes that Buchanan through his radio and television persona as well as his syndicated newspaper column has managed to become a voice in American politics without either the great personal wealth of a Ross Perot or party organization support.

"There's plenty of room [in the Democratic Party] for a lively opposition voice, and holding office may be an inhibition," he says.

With the 150,000 names he says he has on his mailing list of supporters, Brown says he is on his way to creating an effective grass-roots operation for a future campaign. He is not saying for what, or when, right now, but it's clear he is refusing to go softly into political oblivion.

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