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Brown, Wilson Showdown Looms For Governorship of California

Beyond personalities, analysts here say the November election will hinge on whether California emerges from economic doldrums

JUST a day after California primary voters have formally validated what opinion surveys have known for months - a November gubernatorial runoff between Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and Democratic State Treasurer Kathleen Brown - Mr. Wilson is out of the gates with an unorthodox campaign tactic: expensive, minute-long television ads touting his long record in politics.

The two statewide ads underline what Wilson strategists and political analysts alike think will be the deciding factor in an all-important California race that will reverberate beyond Sacramento to the 1996 presidential campaign: Brown's relative inexperience.

About these ads

``From Mayor of San Diego to two terms in the US Senate, to one term as governor, Wilson has a record of achievement,'' says chief campaign spokesman Dan Schnur. ``Kathleen Brown has no such record.''

Pundits here say Pete Wilson's post-primary ploy is intended to achieve more than just the undercutting of news reports of Brown's Democratic nomination. She beat out state insurance commissioner John Garamendi and state Sen. Tom Hayden with 49 percent of the vote to Garamendi's 33 percent and Senator Hayden's 12 percent.

Wilson triumphed over millionaire challenger Ron Unz, 65 percent to 31 percent. ``The ads are a rare, quick blitz gimmick before voters lose interest for the summer,'' says veteran political consultant Joe Cerrell. The stakes are high. ``If the numbers are right in November, Wilson positions himself as the leading Republican for president in 1996.''

Mr. Cerrell says hurdle No. 1 for Wilson has been cleared with room to spare, keeping Mr. Unz from getting 40 percent of the vote - predicted by some pollsters. But recounting his political successes runs counter to what most here feel Governor Wilson must do to win. He has had one of the lowest approval ratings of any California governor in state history, and despite recent improvement in some polls, his negative ratings have remained consistently at 45 percent.

``There is not a lot of warmth for Pete Wilson, even among those who will vote for him,'' notes Steve Scott, political analyst for the California Journal. ``He needs to shine the spotlight on his opponent.''

With the governor's race narrowed to two horses, most observers say the mud will fly. Wilson, they say, must keep attention on Brown's relative political inexperience, highlighting verbal gaffes on issues such as immigration and crime. Brown must try to pin the state's economic woes to Wilson's gubernatural record, what some see as his lack of business vision, and flip-flops on promises of no new taxes.

``We are going to see a sharpening of rhetoric on both sides and a focus on a narrower band of issues,'' Mr. Scott says. A number of observers feel the campaign will be waged more on Wilson's terms because the incumbent governor has been in the public eye as the first American governor to sign a ``three-strikes-you're-out'' bill, putting third-time felons behind bars for life.

About these ads

He has also filed two lawsuits against the federal government seeking money for California for the disproportionate costs the state suffers for handling illegal aliens on the state.

Beyond leadership concerns and how voters perceive the two candidates' differences on top issues - crime, immigration, and education - analysts here say the November election will hinge on whether California continues to emerge from the economic doldrums that have cost the state from 650,000 to 800,000 jobs since 1994.

``We must end this Wilson recession,'' Brown said in her victory speech Tuesday - ``the worst since the Great Depression.''

Analysts say Brown's largest asset for the moment is name recognition. She is the daughter of 1957-1968 Gov. Pat Brown and the sister of 1975-1983 Gov. Jerry Brown. And, as a Democrat, her fortunes rest partly with how well Presidemt Clinton is doing nationally, come November.

Money will be a concern. Brown reportedly has spent $9 million to get past the primary, dwindling her reserves to $500,000 while income has slowed. Meanwhile, Pete Wilson has taken in $6.2 million over the year and has spent only $3 million.

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