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Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category



Why Democrats – White and Black – Back Joe Biden

Monday, May 13th, 2019

obama-bidenLet’s dispense with the notion that name ID explains why former Vice President Joe Biden is repeatedly showing up with double and triple the support of other Democrats in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina and in national polls.

The reason Biden is the top pick of more Democrats than any of the others is pretty simple: more than anything else, Democrats want to defeat President Donald Trump and they see Biden – with all his baggage, warts and limitations – as the candidate most likely to deliver.

At this point in the race, they’re right.

putinslapdogInto the Stature Gap Biden is the one candidate who can stand toe-to-toe with Trump and say he won’t be Putin’s lapdog or Kim’s errand boy. As far as most Democrats are concerned, that’s more important than Biden’s support for the 1994 Crime Bill, his mistreatment of Anita Hill during the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings, his support for the Iraq War in 2002 or any other dodgy aspect of his record.

Why? Because he was Barack Obama’s devoted vice president and he’s positioned – at least for now – to hold all the blue states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and take back Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Because that’s all the Democrats have to do to kick Trump to the curb.

Recent polling from Quinnipiac found Biden had 42 percent support among nonwhite Democrats and CNN put his nonwhite support at 50 percent.

There’s more than a little unintended racism among the political analysts who assume that Senators Kamala Harris or Cory Booker are destined to soar in South Carolina and other states where black votes are critical. What that analysis overlooks is the fact that black voters (and especially black women) – more than any others – want to beat Trump.

It’s why a number of black leaders have suggested that their dream ticket for 2020 would be Biden-Harris.

mondalejacksonWe’ve Seen This Movie Before We’re reminded of one of our earliest forays into presidential politics back in the Dark Ages, when Fritz Hollings, Jesse Jackson and Walter Mondale were vying in December 1983 for the endorsement of the Alabama Democratic Conference – one of the most important black organizations in the South. Jackson, the civil rights leader with strong ties throughout the region, made a soaring, impassioned plea, but when the dust settled in Mobile, ADC endorsed Mondale as the Democratic Party’s best hope against Ronald Reagan.

Fortunately for the Democrats, Trump has none of the charm or political skills Reagan had and with the right candidate, he can be defeated.

But not if Democrats – whoever they wind up choosing – shoot themselves in the foot by selecting a candidate who kowtows to the demands of the most liberal fringes of their party in a vainglorious attempt to sweep the Left at the expense of the Middle.

P.S. After this was posted, The Quinnipiac Poll ran a special crosstab for Calbuzz of its survey of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania showing that Biden and Cory Booker do slightly better when non-whites are in the sample while Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren do slightly worse. So, non-whites boost Biden’s big lead — 39-13% over Bernie Sanders, who comes in second.

Joe Biden and the Folly of the Pitchfork Brigade

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

joebiden2020We agree with Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol: “The piling on about Joe Biden’s sometimes unwanted affectionate touches by political competitors and media outlets is shameful.”

Biden is 76. He’s been a touchy-feely politician all of his career but he’s never bragged that the way to treat women is to “grab ‘em by the pussy,” like Donald Trump. He came up in the days before modern sensibilities about touching – even non-sexual touching – without permission.

He’s also got what Jerry Brown told us is most important in an executive leader: “You need a young spirit but you also need an old hand to get through the difficulties that you face.”

He’s got two choices: he can Franken, i.e. quit under pressure from the Twitter mob, like ex-Sen. Al Franken, or he can Trump it out. The choice is obvious.

Has Biden made mistakes and been on the wrong side of issues during his long career? You bet. He should have given Anita Hill a fair hearing when the Judiciary Committee was considering Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. He was overzealous in his support for the draconian Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

Biden’s record, including his handling of the Thomas hearings, is up for scrutiny – along with his role in advocating for women’s rights, gay marriage, civil rights and other progressive measures, domestic and foreign.

But touching women? It’s an insult to Jill Biden and Michelle Obama to suggest they would have tolerated inappropriate sexist behavior by Biden. And a trap for Democrats, laid by those who don’t want him as a challenger to Trump because of his established appeal to white working class men.

skocpolAs Skocpol noted:

“Both women who have come forward so far are not talking about workplace abuse or sexual misconduct. I can believe them, and still ask why they are speaking up now.

One person, who has supported a political competitor to Biden, acknowledges that she is speaking because Biden is considering entering the primaries; the other says that if Biden really respects women, he should not run and clear the field for the capable women candidates.”

We don’t know if Bernie Sanders, other candidates or some Russian bot are pushing the “Creepy Joe” meme, but the timing is no co-incidence. But as Skocpol, a serious feminist and scholar argues:

“Wait a minute: Is this what gender equality really means? Is this the kind of society we want to live in — where right-wingers can do any vicious thing they want to anyone and shrug it off, while people on the center-left are supposed to expel from public life anyone who says a single wrong word or has done something benignly intended in the past that now does not fit changed norms?

Not me, that is not the kind of America I want to live in. That is not the kind of Democratic primary I want to participate in. If Biden wants to run, I want to hear what he has to say and compare him, fair and square, to the others.”

It seems so quaint that back in 1988, Biden’s use of other politicians’ words without attribution caused him to have to withdraw from the presidential contest. We even helped expose that story and then – two decades later – declared that the statutes of limitations had run its course.

Compared to the gross, abnormal and immoral words and deeds of Donald Trump, it seems so trivial now. But so too does the parachronistic charge of over-familiarity against Biden.

nancypelosi“Join the straight-arm club with me,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Biden during an interview with Politico on Tuesday. “He’s an affectionate person, to children, to senior citizens, to everyone, but that’s just not the way.”

Says Skocpol:

“Biden has long been known as an emotional person who hugs just about everyone he feels positively about, male and female. Now the social mores have shifted. He needs to say he realizes this and change his behavior accordingly. Everyone else, meanwhile, needs to get a grip.

Anyone who experiences an unwanted word or gesture should tell the person involved that they would like them not to say/do that — not wait a decade and contact the media in an expedient moment. And Democrats must keep in mind that they need votes in 2020 from millions of older Americans who are really put off by this kind of out-of-context piling on.”

Amen, sister.

PS: The day after this post appeared, Biden released a statement saying in part: ”Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying, I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future.”

FBI vs. Apple: A Case Study of Kamala Equivocation

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

kamala-sanjoseWith uncharacteristic restraint, Calbuzz balks when people around the country ask us whether Kamala Harris is for real, or just the flavor of the week.

Not because California’s junior senator isn’t smart, savvy and articulate. She’s all that and more. And it’s not because we have a problem with the role she’s played opposing the death penalty, supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants or assisting as an anti-Trump inquisitor on the U.S. Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary.

It’s because, after watching her in San Francisco and California for more than a decade, we truly don’t know whether she operates from a core of cogent and steadfast political values — or merely from a concatenation of constant calculation as to what position most benefits her politically.

The latter, of course, wouldn’t make her much different from a lot of politicians. But her nascent presidential campaign appears to turn on the fundamental premise of authenticity, not only owing to her personal narrative as a mixed-race woman, but also to her record, allegedly that of a principled progressive crusader.

handcuffsSome skeptics already have noted her refusal to take stands on crucial statewide ballot measures to reform the criminal justice system, an issue on which she should have provided clear and explicit leadership. Others have pointed to her sometimes hardline/sometimes softline performance as San Francisco District Attorney. All this is worth considering, as our friend George Skelton has in the LA Times and as Lara Bazelon did in the NY Times.

We have our own concrete example of the the Kamala Equivocation Conundrum.

Evasive pettifoggery. Consider the case of the FBI versus Apple in late 2015 and early 2016. We wrote about it then (and included our interview with Harris), rather ungraciously (for which we criticize ourselves severely) asserting that “Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez [her opponent for Senate] are evasive, elusive and equivocating pettifoggers incapable of giving a straight answer to a straight question.”

malik02On Dec. 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple living in the city of Redlands, targeted a San Bernardino County Department of Public Health training event and Christmas party, killing 14 people and injuring another 22 in a terrorist attack consisting of a mass shooting and an attempted bombing at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

After the fact, the FBI, as part of its investigation and suspecting a third conspirator, prevailed on Apple Corp. in court to unlock Farook’s county-issued iPhone, relying on the All Writs Act of 1789, which says that federal courts can issue “all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” Apple refused, citing its commitment never to violate its users’ data security and civil liberties.

Apple refused, citing its commitment never to violate its users’ data security and civil liberties.

“The implications of the government’s demands are chilling,” Apple said in a letter to customers.”If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

The FBI versus one of California’s most important companies. Surely, California political leaders would have to take sides. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sided (wrongly we thought) with the FBI. Outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer equivocated. Kamala Harris, the state’s Attorney General, running for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate, would be an important voice.

Or so we thought, when we ambushed her on the sidewalk as she tried to flee out the back door and jump into her awaiting SUV at the California Democratic Party State Convention in San Jose on the evening of Feb. 26, 2016.

Here’s our transcribed “interview”:

kamalaleftCalbuzz: We’re told that you haven’t taken a firm position on Apple versus the FBI and we can’t believe that the Attorney General wouldn’t take a position. Where are you on that whole thing?

Harris: I don’t think it’s that simple so I’m not going to choose one over the other because it’s not that simple.

There’s no question that we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do in terms of protecting peoples’ privacy, that’s the work that I’ve done as Attorney General my entire career as Attorney General and I have a lot of examples of that work. But most of the progress that we’ve made has been because we’ve brought the technology in to sit down and deal with their responsibility and knock heads when we have to.

We did that over mobile apps we’ve done it on the work that we’ve done on cyber-exploitation. That has to happen. There has to be some understanding and some give that’s going to be the result of these two groups coming together to figure this out.

CB: But they’re not coming together, they’re in court. Do you feel that the FBI has a legitimate position to say that Apple’s basically got to invent this new software in order to get into the phone?

KH: I believe we’re always going to see a tension between the need to protect individuals’ privacy and the need for law enforcement to have the tools that we need to investigate crime and hold people accountable. That’s always going to be a tension.

CB: If you were in the U.S. Senate, you’d be expected to say whether you think the FBI is overreaching here or not or whether you are defending a company from California.

KH: I am the Attorney General of California and based on everything I know, I can tell you that it is not that simple. So that’s my answer and there are a lot of variables that have to be discussed and figured out and it’s not as short as picking a side. That’s not the answer.

CB: Well, somebody’s going to pick a side in court, aren’t they?…C’mon, when you weigh those two things (privacy vs. law enforcement) where’s the 51% and where’s the 49%?

KB: It depends on the facts of the case. It’s not that simple

CB: Are you familiar with .  . .

KH: I gotta’ go.

There you have it. Many words signifying nothing.

taxtherichArgumentative argument. So we delighted to see that on the presidential campaign trail, Harris – at least for now – has taken firm, forthright stands for a middle-class tax cut, higher taxes on the rich, a Green New Deal, protection of foreign-born children, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Medicare for All and opposition to Donald Trump’s border wall. She also says he personally opposes the death penalty.

On her record as a prosecutor and attorney general, she argues, “I have been consistent my whole career…I have also worked my whole career to reform the criminal justice system.”

Those arguments are more, well, argumentative. But whether they will have traction against her from the left is doubtful. Her bigger problem would be from the right in a general election when she is attacked on the death penalty, her handling of immigration and drug cases in San Francisco and other charges that she’s soft on crime.

Nor has she been pressed yet on how she’ll approach Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, conflicts with Russia and China, labor opposition to trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, etc. We’ll see her willingness to stand firm on those kinds of issues soon enough, along with how forthright she remains in the face of serious and even vicious opposition.

We have high hopes but our experience with her makes us wary.

Exit Interview: Jerry Brown Stresses Elder Wisdom

Sunday, January 6th, 2019

jerrybrownfinalAs he leaves office Monday, after serving a combined 16 years as governor of California, Jerry Brown’s summation of what makes for great executive leadership boils down to one quality: experience.

In an final interview as governor with Calbuzz over the weekend, the 80-year old Brown reflected on what he’s learned about political and policy leadership — with ideas, insights and implications both for incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom and for Democrats seeking the White House in 2020 – that amounts to a veneration of elder wisdom akin to cultural practice in the Far East.

“I think experience, making mistakes, going through it all, I think that’s very helpful and kind of undercuts the idea that it’s time for a change or that we need a young person in there,” he said, when asked  what he knows now that he didn’t know after his first two terms ended in 1983. “Well, you need a young spirit but you also need an old hand to get through the difficulties that you face.”

Young spirit; old hand. That is the aurea mediocritas of Brown’s accumulated wisdom from serving as chief executive of America’s largest state for longer than any in history.

“You need innovation and you need freshness, but I just think being able to size up the problems, the people – you can’t learn that in a couple of years. Certainly, as a young person not only did I not know as much,” Brown said, noting that he was not taken as seriously in his 20th century terms as he might have been by older legislators. “Now I’m the oldest and most experienced and that’s where authority can do the job more effectively. Those are just artifacts of time.”

jerryatranchWill Jerry play in 2020? Brown, whose job approval among Democrats is near 70%, has yet to decide how he plans to affect the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, although he confirmed to Calbuzz that he will not be a candidate himself.

“I’m moving to the ranch,” he said of his homestead in Colusa County. “But I’m available for consultation at all times.”

When Calbuzz suggested that Brown could run as a favorite son candidate in California’s March primary, and thereby deliver the state’s humongous delegation at the Democratic National Convention in late summer, he didn’t offer much interest in the notion — although he did not dismiss it entirely either:

“You can keep flogging that one for a while, I guess,” he said.

gavin2What Prince Gavin needs to know. More broadly, Brown’s reflections on experience and the state of politics offered insight into his concerns for Newsom and for the Democrats seeking the presidency.

“The governor has got to be able to say ‘no.’ And you can’t say ‘no’ all the time. And I think we’re running out of ‘yesses’ that are easily paid for,” he said. “I’ve been able to balance the ‘nos’ and the ‘yesses’…I think it’s more polarized and I think compromises are out of the way. So, I’d say it’s going to be more daunting in one sense” for the new governor.

“But of course, if you dial back to 2011, that $27 billion deficit looked totally daunting,” said Brown, who – after raising taxes and containing new spending — is leaving California with a rainy day fund of about $14 billion as part of a projected surplus of nearly $30 billion, barring recession.

“Each governor faces his own issues and I would say the biggest issue is avoid big screw-ups,” Brown said. “And so far, we haven’t had any. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for two more days.”

joebiden2020Leaning in on Biden. Although he was not prepared to take sides in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, Brown’s observations about experience also suggested that he, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have said in recent days, is leaning toward 76-year-old Biden, the former Vice President.

“You gotta know stuff,” Brown said. “I mean, how you gonna deal with the Russians positively as well as on issues where we’re in dispute? How you gonna deal with the Middle East, China and world trade – these are, I can tell you from my vantage point here as governor, this stuff is really complicated, more complicated than it was 30 years ago therefore you do need older people.”

The governor, who has studied in Japan and traveled in India and China, expressed an even more global view of the value in governance of time-tested knowledge and maturity: “The Chinese, you know, they run people through mayor, governor and up through the Politbureau. We just take anybody who can win a primary. But at some point the amateur hour is going to prove not up to the task when you deal with more experienced world leaders.”

Does that mean he will be supporting Biden?

“Well, I’m not going to give you my diagnosis of each of these candidates. But I can tell you right now I was a more effective governor in my 70s than I was in my 30s. So, whatever that says for the presidency, I think it means a lot. I know a lot. I’ve made thousands of appointments, I’ve had hundreds of serious arguments, I’ve seen things happen that I didn’t expect. So, I know how to read the tea leaves, the signs of the times and that does take experience.”

So the No. 1 qualification for a great executive is experience?

“Experience, but also openness, sensitivity to people and to issues. To run for office you have to be ambitious and being ambitious means you’re thinking about yourself a lot.

“But if you’re totally wrapped up in yourself you miss cues, you miss understanding situations, so you need openness you need having been on the field of battle for years and years. I think even (John F.) Kennedy – he lucked out on the Cuban missile crisis –but when he was talking to (Nikita) Khruschev in Berlin, he screwed it up. Same thing with Bay of Pigs. And Bush got us into the war in Iraq…There’s not one magic bullet. You need wisdom, you need insight, you need experience and then you need to get elected, which takes a whole other bundle of skills.”

jerrygandalfA satisfied self-assessment. As for his own governorship, Brown retires with a sense of satisfaction and joy.

“I don’t think there’s anything that I could have done that I didn’t do,” he said. “I got the gas tax, I got the income tax, I got the water bond – we’ve got a few things going, the high-speed rail and the (water) tunnels but those things take many, many years to come to fruition…

“I don’t know, reforming the prisons – I’d like to see that continue. A lot of these efforts, like the local control formula, the ground-water management, all that is generational – it’s not going to happen in a year or even in one term. These are long term efforts. Certainly, in the prison system, after I left (the governorship the first time) the 12 prisons in California were turned into 35 prisons, which is the biggest over-shoot ever in California history. And trying to roll that back is extraordinarily difficult. I did some, but I’d like to see more.”

Intriguing historical question: bottom line, does he think he was as good a chief executive as his late father, Pat Brown, considered one of the best governors in state history?

“I don’t really like those comparisons. I think I’ve been a good governor. Most people believe that. And I do attribute a lot of that success to the business cycle and the fact that I’ve had continuous growth every year that I’ve been governor. The total of three million new jobs, the $800 billion in new gross domestic product is incredible. So that’s a fortune platform, to say the least, on which to launch my governorship. Yes, I think my experience, practice makes perfect. The force was with me.

“And we’ll see how it works when you ride into that recession – Gray (Davis) ran into that, (Arnold) Schwarzenegger ran into that.

“And (George) Deukmejian, by the way, who made the colossal mistake of overbuilding the prison system, he enjoyed great popularity. And I always wondered why was he so popular, you know he wasn’t that dramatic or charismatic, but the economy grew virtually during his entire governorship and then just collapsed when (Pete) Wilson got there. He had that eight-year growth cycle and I’ve had the eight-year growth cycle. And both of us, if you look at the surveys, are the two most popular governors. Even (Ronald) Reagan was below 50% and a lot of it is the vagaries of the business cycle.”

So does he think his old man would be proud?

“Oh yeah, I think he would.”

Well that’s got to be a good feeling.

“It is a good feeling. I get a good feeling just being governor and doing all the things that I do. I enjoy it. It stimulates the mind, it challenges one’s capacity to deal with other people and confront issues and problems. It’s a challenge that stimulates a response that you don’t get from anything that I know of.”

California-Electoral-CollegeCalifornia in national politics.

For years, Californians complained that their presidential primaries in June came so late in the electoral cycle that by the time our massive vote was cast, it was too late to influence the outcome.

Flyspeck states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina always winnow the field before California with its huge party delegation – about 11% of the total needed to win the nomination and a fifth of the electoral votes to win the White House — even had a voice.

So last year, California moved its primary to March 3, still after the lead-off states, but early enough in the cycle to exercise some clout. With early absentee voting, Californians will start casting ballots about the same time as the Iowa caucuses.

The downside — for Democrats anyway — is that few of the contenders who are likely to run in a multi-candidate field will have the resources or name recognition to mount a serious bid for California’s cache of primary votes. With proportional representation at stake, it’ll be hard but expensive to resist.

California’s early primary, then, is likely to give an edge to potential candidates like Biden, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders who are already known to California voters. Their supporters don’t mind.

But for those who want California to be a genuine force in picking through the candidates, the very size and breadth of the state actually may mitigate against being able to check out the wide field, with possible bids from Eric Garcetti, Sherrod Brown, Julian Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and more.

How then, to assure that California can throw its weight around?

That’s why Calbuzz will keep flogging the strategy of electing Jerry Brown as a favorite son who can take the bulk of the state’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention and decide who gets the nomination. Yes, it’s a return to the old-school practice of wielding influence very late in the process, but in this wide-open electoral year that would be worthwhile.

His father, Pat Brown, ran as a favorite son three times – in 1952 where he took just 10% against Estes Kefauver – and in 1960 and ’64, when he delivered California to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Based on his father’s experience and changes in how party nominees are chosen, Brown himself said “this favorite son business is chancy…it’s a nice idea, but we’ve got a lot of candidates today and the favorite son role has virtually disappeared.

“But I’ll be talking to all the candidates and see…sometimes, when they don’t feel they can win, they like the favorite sons to hold the delegations for them. But that was a former era and I think conditions have fundamentally changed.”

The Harris people would likely see this as a “Stop Kamala” movement. It needn’t be. But it would force any potential California candidate – like Harris or Garcetti – to prove her or his appeal beyond California, which any Democrat will win in November anyway.

“It’s an interesting idea and it would be a good way to showcase all that he has led on. But a favorite son candidacy would be pretty limiting to someone with his experience, leadership and forward thinking.,” said longtime Brown political adviser Joe Trippi.

“On the other hand,” added Trippi, “does anyone think Jerry is done trying to impact and drive the debate on the issues he cares about?”

Not hardly. Run, Jerry, run.

Op-Ed: Why Californians Don’t Win the White House

Monday, December 17th, 2018

ericgarcettiBy Garry South
From The Hill

We’ve barely recovered from the 2018 mid-terms, but the air is already thick with speculation about whether a candidate from California will enter the 2020 race for president. And some potential candidates are making moves that encourage that speculation.

Freshman U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris is writing a book and crisscrossed the country on behalf of Democratic candidates. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has traveled to Iowa and other states. Rep. Eric Swalwell, one of the Democrats’ public faces in the Russia probe, is toying with a run, and billionaire Tom Steyer is a regular mentionable.

kamalaharrisIt makes sense to figure that someone from the Golden State will run for president. Bigger than Canada or Australia, California offers 55 electoral votes – one-fifth of the 270 needed to win the Electoral College. The state’s 2020 primary has been moved up to March, and California sends a behemoth delegation to the Democratic National Convention. And two presidents have been elected from the state, Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 (both Republicans, interestingly).

Tilting at Windmills Nevertheless, recent history offers some cautionary tales. Over the past 40 years, most California presidential candidates have lost – and for three of the most notable, their failures affected their standing in the state and their political futures.

Consider Gov. Jerry Brown, who, during his first iteration as governor, twice ran for president. In 1976, less than two years into his first term and just 38, Brown sought the Democratic nomination for president and won a handful of states, but ended up with only 300 delegates, behind both Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter and Arizona Rep. Morris Udall.

jerryandlindaCalifornians indulged Linda Ronstadt’s boyfriend his fling in 1976, but they turned on him in 1980, when he challenged a sitting Democratic president.  Against Carter, Brown won only 10 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. Californians didn’t like Brown’s inattention to their critical issues and in the state’s Democratic primary gave the sitting governor a meager 4 percent of the vote.

Two years later Brown faced retribution from California voters when he ran for the U.S. Senate. Although he had won his 1978 re-election by 20 percent, Brown lost the Senate election to San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, whose only previous statewide outing had been finishing fourth in the 1978 GOP primary for governor. To boot, the Democrats lost the governorship to Republican Attorney Gen. George Deukmejian.

cranstonCranston’s Folly California U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston was the first to launch a bid for president in 1984. Although respected in the Senate, Cranston at 69 was a gaunt figure with orangish hair. He won some straw polls based on his fervent advocacy of a nuclear freeze, but finished a weak fourth in the Iowa caucuses and dropped out after drawing just 2 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.

Cranston had first been elected to the Senate in 1968 and had won re-election by hefty margins in 1974 and ’80, but his dalliance with the presidency left him mired in campaign debt and his quixotic bid was not viewed positively at home. Partially as a result, he barely won his seat again in 1986 against moderate GOP Rep. Ed Zschau of Silicon Valley. Six years later, Cranston retired.

Jerry Brown refashioned himself as a 1-800 populist for president in 1992. In a large field including the ultimate nominee, Bill Clinton, Brown did manage to last until the national convention where he spoke. But in the California Democratic primary that year, Clinton handily beat Brown 47-40 percent. It would be another 14 years until he ran statewide again, for Attorney General in 2006.

petewilsonThe Wilson Debacle Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who rode an anti-immigrant proposition to a re-election victory in 1994 promised voters he would serve out his full term. Instead, he decided to run for president. Wilson, who had been a moderate, pro-choice Republican, lurched to the right on issues like immigration and affirmative action, seeking to burnish his bona fides with conservative GOP primary voters across the country.

It didn’t matter. His campaign was plagued with missteps and misfortunes. Conservative primary voters in other states still viewed Wilson as governor of “La La Land.” And Republicans back home were unhappy that his out-of-state travel left Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis as acting governor. Wilson dropped out of the race in September of ’95, before a single vote had been cast.

Despite his huge re-election win just the year before, Wilson’s popularity never recovered – a Los Angeles Times poll in ‘95 showed that only 30 percent of California Republican voters thought he should have run for president. He drove Latinos away from the GOP. And his absenteeism and low approval ratings set up Davis to win a 20-point victory in the 1998 governor’s race over Wilson’s endorsed candidate.

A gaggle of other California elected officials also took a stab at the White House over this period of time, including Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty in 1972, Irvine Mayor Larry Agran in 1992, and Rep. Duncan Hunter in 2008. None of them registered so much as a blip on the political radar screen, so that’s eight out of the last nine Californians to run for president who have crashed and burned, versus one (Reagan) who actually won.

gray-davisDavis No Go Why have a majority of California candidates fared so poorly? I have a couple of theories. In 1998, I managed Gray Davis’ successful campaign for governor. Davis won huge landslide victories in both the primary and general. As chief executive of the largest state while still in his 50s, he was immediately the subject of speculation about a possible presidential run.

I never thought Davis wanted to run for president, but during the first two years of his term, he was riding high, with fawning national press coverage and approval numbers in the 60s. Even a plurality of Republicans said he was doing a good job. The governor’s political team polled and conducted focus groups to help shape our messaging and policy agenda. But even when he was at the apex of his popularity (before a recall election removed him from office in 2003), voters in focus groups regularly panned his prospects as a potential presidential aspirant. Even participants who praised his actions as governor would make remarks like, “Nooo, not for president!” or “Are you kidding?” and roll their eyes or chuckle.

In my view, this had less to do with Davis himself than with the residents of this mega-state, who tend to believe that someone elected governor or senator ought to first and foremost do their day job, and be satisfied that they represent the largest state with one of the world’s biggest economies.

There’s also that trusty biblical saying: “A prophet is without honor in his own country.”

garrysouthIt’s a free country and California elected officials with presidential aspirations have every right to go for it. But they also should soberly assess the fates of others that have taken the plunge, and the collateral damage done to their careers and standing in the state, where voters have historically been unkind to public officials running off to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Garry South is a veteran Democratic political strategist based in California, who managed Gray Davis’s successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1998 and 2002, and played a central role in Al Gore’s 2000 presidential winning primary and general election campaigns in California. This article was originally published in The Hill.