After months of being pounded on TV by Meg Whitman and her allies, Jerry Brown takes to the airwaves this week, introducing himself to younger voters, reminding older voters of better times and reassuring them all – especially moderate and independent swing voters — that he will not raise taxes without a vote of the people. His first ad is here.
Krusty the General’s first 30-second spot – released at 7 a.m. on Labor Day — asserts that when he was governor in the 1970s and 80s, “He cut waste, got rid of the mansion and the limo; budgets were balanced; four billion in tax cuts; world-class schools and universities; clean energy promoted; one-point nine million new jobs created. California was working.”
Then Brown tells viewers, “California needs major changes. We have to live within our means. We have to return power and decision-making to the local level, closer to the people. And no new taxes without voter approval.”
The takeaway (we still wonder if it’s really sticky) is delivered by a voice-over: “Jerry Brown: the knowledge and know-how to get California working again.”
eMeg spent about $24 million over the summer portraying the attorney general and former governor as a failed and hypocritical tax-and-spend liberal. But Krusty’s allies in the labor movement spent about $10 million over the same period attacking Whitman to keep Brown from falling hopelessly behind — as Kathleen Brown and Phil Angelides did in earlier contests. As a result, the race has remained – in most reliable polls – nearly a dead heat.
The question insiders have been wondering all summer was this: Once Brown takes to the air, what will he say? What’s his message?
The release of his first TV ad (we hear the buy is more than $1.5 million for the first six days) begins to answer that question. Brown is in effect saying – especially to crucial swing voters – “I’m a safe alternative to that woman who has been assaulting your senses all summer. California was working when I was governor and I’ll make it work again. I’m frugal, experienced and I know what I’m doing.”
Made by longtime Brown ally and media meister Joe Trippi, the ad seeks to convince voters that Brown was and remains a tightwad with the experience and integrity to govern California at a time of crisis. Brown’s campaign brain trust – after much polling and many focus groups – understands that the No. 1 concern about him among independents is whether he’ll raise taxes and spend like a drunken sailor.
Calbuzz was only somewhat surprised that Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages” wasn’t the soundtrack, with Jerry twanging:
A self-ordained professor’s tongue, too serious to fool,
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school.
“Equality,” I spoke the word, as if a wedding vow.
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
While footage for this ad was shot in San Francisco, other footage, still to be stitched into commercials, was shot at director Francis Ford Coppola’s private facility in Napa.
What the Brown ad campaign still lacks is a tight, strategic message like “Change You Can Believe In,” “Compassionate Conservative,” or “A New Deal.” Brown’s bumper stickers just say “Jerry Brown,” suggesting that the man is the message.
Always seeking to be helpful, we’ve consulted Calbuzzers G.K. Chesterton, St. Ignatius, Pierre Teillhard de Chardin and E.F. Schumacher to come up with some proposals that are a bit snappier than “Let’s Get California Working Again”:
— “Jerry Brown: Been There, Done That.”
— “Too Cheap to Fail.”
— “This Time I’ll Get it Right.”
— “Jerry Brown: No Sale on My Watch.”
— “Too Old to Lose.”
— “Age Quod Agis.”
Update: A couple of other notes:
1-Krusty wisely got a serious eyebrow job before taping the spot. The e-blast press release that was sent out with the ad trumpets Brown’s “energy,” among several references aimed at heading off the Gandalf issue, a message that would be seriously undercut without the key cosmetic fix you read about here first, which takes about 900 years off his face.
2-The ad is narrated by actor Peter Coyote, a long-time pal of Brown’s whom he appointed to the California Arts Council in his first turn as governor, a board that became very controversial during the same era, after Krusty also appointed Jane Fonda, then widely known as “Hanoi Jane.”
3-Don’t be shocked if the “no new taxes without voter approval” kicker becomes a point of contention between him and eMeg.
Along with his call for returning power to the “local level,” Brown appears to be offering the framework for a proposal, kicked around the Legislature in several forms, to return responsibility to cities and counties for some programs the state took over funding after passage of Prop. 13; the trade-off would be letting local voters decide about financing them.
When we asked Whitman about the idea during the Republican state convention last March, after it had been raised by state senate Democrats, she flatly opposed the notion, saying no taxes should be raised, whether local voters approved them or not.
Update II: Three hours after Brown’s ad was released, an under assistant deputy flack from eMeg sent out a response reprising her summer attacks on Brown, saying he “is the last person we can trust for ‘major change’ in Sacramento.”
After 40 years in politics protecting the status quo, it’s no surprise that Jerry Brown is kicking off his campaign with a misleading historic renovation of his own record.
And for anyone who’s ever remodeled their house, or even just seen “The Money Pit,” you know how painful those historic renovations can be.