Former Gov. Pete Wilson is the only politician to have beat Jerry Brown in an election. In 1982, Wilson, then-San Diego mayor, trounced Brown, then California's big-foot governor, in the race for U.S. Senate 51 to 45 percent. Now Wilson serves as Meg Whitman's campaign chairman. On Thursday, he told me not to believe polls that show Whitman losing by as much as double digits. Whitman, he says, has a real shot at beating Brown.
Polls that show Whitman losing, Wilson said, "are greatly underestimating the enthusiasm on the part of the Republicans and pretty much a lack of it on the other side."
And: "I think the undecided are going to decide in her favor."
If the polls are right and Brown does win, the big question is: Will Brown conclude that he won because he ran a savvy campaign, or that he won largely because Whitman spent $161 million on a dysfunctional campaign?
Darry Sragow, a former Democratic strategist, is interim director of the Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll that shows Brown ahead of Whitman with 52 percent to her 39 percent of the vote. (Wilson has real issues with that poll.) While Sragow refused to call the race, and noted "the unexpected sometimes happens," he believes that Whitman frittered away her credibility during the campaign.
But also, "Jerry Brown won in one very, very important way," Sragow noted. Brown and campaign manager Steve Glazer withstood months of pressure from Democratic operatives who "were beating Jerry on the head and shoulders for not engaging and not spending money."
In the punditry biz, we have a tendency to overplay the importance of campaigns. In California, 44 percent of registered voters are Democrats and 31 percent are Republicans. In a wave year that sends Republicans to the polls while Democrats stay home, the tide could propel some Republicans into statewide office. Any other year, the Democratic primary winner has to really mess up to lose in November.
Now on the propositions ...
Yes on Proposition 19. The establishment spin goes something like this: Even if marijuana legalization makes sense, Proposition 19 is so poorly written that voters must reject it.
Bunk. The measure is tightly written to give state and local governments unimpeded authority in deciding whether to allow the sale of marijuana, and if so, how to tax and regulate it.
There won't be a better bill. Marijuana prohibition enables and enriches criminal cartels and gangs. Californians have a chance to end the madness, and voters should grab it.