Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown, accompanied by his wife, Anne Gust Brown, walks outside the Old Governors Mansion on election night in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Brown easily advanced to the November general election with early returns showing him with 57 percent of the vote. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

By Josh Richman, jrichman@bayareanewsgroup.com
Posted: 06/17/14, 9:04 PM PDT |

Gov. Jerry Brown in a steamy political scandal? Unlikely.

Another national economic collapse? Also a long shot.

After this month’s primary election, the real question is: Does a rookie Republican like Neel Kashkari have any chance of toppling a popular governor in an ultrablue state?

California political experts say only Brown’s, ahem, death could keep him from winning an unprecedented fourth term in November. But even the Grim Reaper himself wouldn’t necessarily lift Kashkari to victory: California election laws give even candidates in coffins the right to stay alive on the ballot.

Brown got 54 percent of the vote in the June 3 primary, even though he didn’t campaign at all — no mailers, no TV or radio ads, no political events. He held onto all but a smidgen of his $20.7 million campaign war chest.

Recent polls show his approval rating as high as 59 percent as voters give him credit for a newly stable state budget and falling unemployment. Brown, 76, also has the name recognition that comes with 28 years in elected office. But the 40-year-old Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official who has never held elected office and helped bail out the banks after the economy collapsed in 2008, is still introducing himself to voters.

Kashkari, who won 19 percent of the primary vote, had to put $2.1 million of his own money into an ad blitz to best Tea Party Republican Tim Donnelly. His digs at Brown — blaming him for “the destruction of the middle class” and relentless pursuit of a “crazy train” high-speed rail project — aren’t getting much traction beyond the GOP, preferred by only 28 percent of California voters.

Perhaps Kashkari’s glimmer of hope is that the nation’s political history is dotted with upsets that prove no pundit can predict all the possibilities.

History also shows that sudden scandals can destroy once-unassailable candidates.

But Jack Pitney, a Claremont McKenna College professor of politics, said the chance of Brown facing “personal scandal is almost nonexistent — he’s just not a personal-scandal kind of guy; he’s never been interested in enriching himself.”

“And at his age,” Pitney added drolly, “other types of scandal seem unlikely.”

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