Jerry Brown
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By Peter Brown

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, is a former White House correspondent with two decades of experience covering Washington government and politics. Click here for Mr. Brown’s full bio.

If, as the conventional wisdom holds, that this is the year in which being a career politician is a problem for candidates, then one might think Jerry Brown’s effort to reclaim the California governor’s mansion would be toast.

The one-time boy wonder of Democratic politics is now a senior citizen and still running (for office) strong. If you look in the dictionary under “career politician” his picture could be there.

Having come to power originally by coalescing the young and long-haired, among others, Mr. Brown is now the balding face of the party establishment he once loved to vilify.

Mr. Brown faces a female political neophyte, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who has almost unlimited funds. She is doing everything possible to remind voters who is the fresh face with new ideas in this race and who has been around seemingly forever.

One of her TV ads is a collage of pictures of Mr. Brown, beginning with his first campaign as governor and ending with a contemporary shot of Mr. Brown, clearly showing the aging process.

“A lot has changed since Brown was last governor – like the invention of movable type, the Internet, cell phones and the end of the Cold War,” Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governor’s Association told Politico, outlining the GOP attack line.

After all, Mr. Brown is trying to reclaim a job he first occupied when he was just 36 years old, half the age he is now. Ms. Whitman, 44, was in high school the first time he was elected to the post.

A National Symbol of Reform

Back then, he was a national symbol of the reform movement within the Democratic Party and he struck a chord with the baby boomers that were then moving into adulthood.

Today, Mr. Brown is again the Democratic nominee for governor. He has been a figure in state and national politics since 1970, when he first won statewide office.

In Ms. Whitman, he faces the kind of candidate many think will do well in this anti-establishment climate. Mr. Brown may not be the incumbent, but his decades in the public eye and in public office have made him the functional equivalent of one in this race.

Polls show Mr. Brown and Ms. Whitman, a first-time candidate for public office, are in a competitive race. Ms. Whitman raised her profile in a hard-fought primary for the Republican nomination to battle Mr. Brown, who many see as a vulnerable favorite because of his background.

Mr. Brown’s 40 years in California politics would likely be a major asset in most years even though that is the kind of credential that he once used to disparage.

And Mr. Brown still thinks it is. “I have been around a long time. I know stuff. Knowing is better than not knowing,” he told “Good Day L.A.” He continued: “Were I a CEO and someone said, you know what, I have never been in this company … and I want to be the boss, I’d say ‘Hey, why don’t you start at the bottom and work your way up?’”

But this year, as incumbents have been losing primaries at a surprising rate and as many find themselves training political newcomers, Mr. Brown finds himself as the face of the establishment.

A Golden State Family

Mr. Brown, the son of a California governor and brother of another Democratic nominee for governor, became the Golden State’s secretary of state at the tender age of 32 in 1970.

Four years later, he won the governorship in the 1974 Democratic landslide triggered by the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s forced resignation from the presidency.

Mr. Brown, who is now 72, was 36 when he was elected governor the first time and was easily re-elected in 1978, but lost a run for the U.S. Senate in 1982.

After practicing law for a few years, Mr. Brown couldn’t resist the tug of politics. In 1989 he took the relatively low-level job, especially for a former governor, as California Democratic Party chairman. He used it as a dubious springboard to a quixotic run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In 1998 and then in 2002 he was elected mayor of Oakland and in 2006 began his climb back to the governor’s mansion by being elected the state’s attorney general.

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