The truism says that six months is an eternity in politics, with colossal change possible in that short time.
It certainly has been that way for Bob Filner, the 20-year Democratic congressman from San Diego who last spring was riding high shortly after becoming mayor and ending more than two decades of Republican rule at City Hall. Now he’s in disgrace, run out of office by his own misbehavior.
But as the race for governor gets its semi-official start just before and during Labor Day weekend, it’s clear six months changed little in California’s highest profile contest of next year.
No Democrat has emerged to contest Brown in the primary. Republican prospects who looked weak six months ago seem even weaker now. The only thing looking certain is that Jerry Brown will have a runoff opponent in November 2014 – but possibly only because even if a candidate gets a majority of the primary election vote next June, he or she must still run again in November. That happened to Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein last year as she easily won reelection to the U.S. Senate.
How is Brown doing it? For one thing, there’s his performance in office, a sober approach refusing to permit either wild spending by his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature, his battling with federal judges while trying to prevent release of more convicts from state prisons and his efforts to get tax breaks for businesses investing in new equipment.
Put it together, and some of the ammunition Republicans usually use against Democrats just doesn’t work against Brown, who now looks likely to have the easiest run of his long career next fall.
Just in case there’s a problem, he also has more than $10 million in his campaign kitty – and that’s just cash available during the primary election season, when Brown can expect no challenge.
Neither of the two Republicans so far publicly yearning to be Brown’s runoff opponent has raised even a fraction that much. Interests that normally are more likely to contribute to Republicans than Democrats have kicked into Brown’s campaign fund – Walmart, Bank of America, Nike and Anheuser-Busch, to name a few.
Big campaign kitties sitting idle a year or two before any election tend to scare off serious opposition. That’s what Brown has managed so far.
There’s still the possibility a big-money Republican will emerge from the party’s woodwork to challenge Brown, but that grows less likely by the day. For even if a billionaire candidate can write infinite checks – as Brown’s 2010 rival Meg Whitman (the former eBay chair and current top executive at Hewlett-Packard) did during her effort, it still takes time to ramp up a campaign, hire competent managers (Whitman suffered in that department) and attract volunteers.
It’s been 15 years since the GOP ran anything but a wealthy, self-funded candidate for governor, William Simon losing to Gray Davis in 2002, Arnold Schwarzenegger ousting Davis a year later and then winning reelection in 2006, and Whitman flailing and failing in 2010.
While current candidate Abel Maldonado has some wealth, his family having farmed for many years near Santa Maria, he can’t simply write multi-million dollar checks at will, like those previous three. Meanwhile, Tea Party favorite and former Minutemen border activist Tim Donnelly, a state senator from the high desert regions of Southern California, has fewer personal resources than Maldonado. Both must depend on donations.
Neither has yet mounted anything like an effective attack on Brown, which they must do in order to attact donations on the scale Brown regularly draws. Donnelly has had no coherent message, beyond saying “California needs someone to stand up and fight” – presumably against immigration amnesty, which he fervently opposes – and in favor of a law authorizing concealed carrying of guns. Donnelly famously had a run-in with federal authorities when he tried to carry a pistol aboard a Southwest Airlines plane at Ontario Airport.
Maldonado, meanwhile, has built his nascent campaign around blasting Brown for release of state prisoners, something Brown is fighting to avoid. That attack has no legs.
All of which means the GOP must do a lot better in the next few months than it has lately, or concede another four years to Brown.