Three weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown's ballot initiative to raise taxes was on the brink.
The measure was fading in public opinion polls, pulled down by a rival tax initiative, a state parks scandal and other distractions at the Capitol.
Brown's television ads, only recently on the air, had been widely discredited, and Brown's allies were growing anxious. The Democratic governor kept largely out of view.
Privately, however, Brown was raising tens of millions of dollars for his initiative while dissuading influential business interests from opposing it. Union allies had arranged not only to contribute money but to organize a network of phone banks and precinct walkers to turn out supporters on Election Day.
Over salmon cakes at an Oakland restaurant one mid-October evening, Brown said, "Now's the time."
For the past three weeks, Brown campaigned furiously throughout the state, outspending his opposition and using the force of his incumbency to focus attention on the measure.
After casting his ballot Tuesday, he told reporters, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the outcome is even more positive than most of you are probably expecting."
That evening, Brown declared victory as the measure crept ahead with friendly votes from Los Angeles about to be counted.
Brown, who has been trying to raise taxes almost since taking office, acknowledged the difficulty he had in failed negotiations with the Legislature over taxes last year, and later in a feud with the proponents of alternative tax proposals.
"It is a torturous path, but I think it manifests a certain determination," he said. "And I learned a long time ago, in my early education under not the Jesuits, but the Dominican nuns that perseverance is the key virtue, and exercising the will against obstacles is good for the character. And certainly I believe I've built up some more character these last two years."
Brown, who has insisted the initiative is not about his political future, acknowledged over the weekend that it would have "some impact" on him politically. "Obviously," he said, "it is better to win than to lose."
Brown's success is in part a function of circumstance. California is heavily Democratic, an advantage that is especially pronounced in high-turnout presidential elections. But even in a Democratic state, tax increases are difficult to pass. Proposition 30, which will raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners, is the first statewide tax initiative to succeed since 2004.
In rallies and other public appearances, Brown labored to ensure that supporters reached the polls, courting such reliably Democratic constituencies as college students, Latinos and union members. Over the weeks his appeal grew increasingly precise: "Do you want money into the schools, or do you want money out?"
"There was clearly, you know, a real moment that really happened the last two weeks, where Californians did kind of a gut check to see whether they wanted to do this or not," said Ace Smith, whose company, SCN Strategies, ran Brown's campaign. "We won that argument at the critical time."
It appeared early on that Brown might not. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association hammered him for a parks scandal in which his administration disclosed nearly $54 million in hidden money. Opponents yoked his campaign to legislative pay raises and Brown's approval of California's controversial high-speed rail project.
Brown had also failed to persuade Molly Munger, the wealthy lawyer financing a rival tax measure, to withdraw. The millions of dollars she spent advertising, polls suggested, diluted support for Brown.
"They were waging a campaign on two fronts on the left with Munger and on the right with Howard Jarvis," said Steve Maviglio, a Democratic strategist. "It's difficult to thread that needle, and I think they were able to do that."
Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the campaign against the measure, said Brown's "ability to dial into the union apparatus and the Democratic Party apparatus was a huge advantage."
While Brown and his allies raised more than $55 million and generated near-daily attention in the state's largest media markets, the anti-tax campaign raised just about $13 million. The California Chamber of Commerce remained neutral, and Brown was supported by the state's heavily regulated oil and health care industries.
"Where was the opposition?" said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and former speechwriter for ex-Gov. Pete Wilson. "I think a lot of people made the decision that they do not want to anger the governor, they do not want to antagonize the Legislature . This is just the power structure working to his advantage."
Brown was helped late in the campaign by a run of publicity surrounding an $11 million donation from an opaque, out-of-state group to a committee opposing Proposition 30 and supporting another measure, Proposition 32.
Brown railed against the donation nearly every day for two weeks, and the state Fair Political Practices Commission kept attention on it with legal demands for disclosure.
"Never underestimate Jerry Brown's political know-how," Maviglio said of the third term governor. "Despite repeated criticism of it the messages and how the campaign was run he stuck to his knitting and proved everyone wrong."