Capitol Alert

Californians like Jerry Brown, but not for president

Jerry Brown receives high marks from California Democrats for his job as governor, but nearly half say they don’t want him to run for president.
Jerry Brown receives high marks from California Democrats for his job as governor, but nearly half say they don’t want him to run for president. Sacramento Bee file

Jerry Brown isn’t running for president. If he were, he’d have this humbling incongruity to consider: While California Democrats overwhelmingly approve of the job Brown is doing as governor, they don’t tend to see him as presidential material.

Just 39 percent of likely voters in California’s Democratic primary react positively to the idea of Brown running for president, according to a Field Poll released Monday.

Forty-eight percent think it would be a bad thing if he ran.

This is despite Brown’s 73 percent approval rating among California Democrats and 56 percent approval from registered voters overall.

The poll comes amid ongoing cogitations – mostly positive and mostly from outside California – on the prospect of a late entry by Brown into the presidential campaign. Points in Brown’s favor are California’s improving financial condition, the governor’s in-state popularity and stumbles by the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Washington Post carried a blog item last month titled, “The case for Jerry Brown to run for president.”

The reaction in California? Meh.

“They don’t really want Brown to change jobs,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

They don’t really want Brown to change jobs.

Mark DiCamillo, poll director

Nor is Brown biting. The fourth-term governor said in March that he might run for president if he were 10 years younger. But at 77 and having failed to win the presidency three times before, he has said repeatedly that he will not run.

In an on-stage discussion at an event in San Francisco last week, real estate developer George Marcus, a friend, asked Brown, “Is there a remote possibility that if the Democratic convention drafted you, would you consider it?”

Brown replied, “I’m certainly not running, and I have no interest. I have a lot of other things in my life that I want to do.”

I’m certainly not running, and I have no interest. I have a lot of other things in my life that I want to do.

Gov. Jerry Brown

Alex Vega, a Democratic poll respondent from Tracy, said he likes Brown but finds him quirky.

“I just don’t see him very presidential-like,” the 35-year-old said. “Plus, he leans a little bit on the older side.”

The prospect of Brown running for president holds more appeal with Clinton supporters than with Californians who are undecided or who are backing Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, according to the poll.

But fidelity to an existing candidate does not appear to fully explain Democrats’ desire to see Brown sit out the presidential race.

When asked to consider a more plausible potential candidate, Vice President Joe Biden, nearly two-thirds of likely Democratic voters say it would be good for the party if he ran, according to the poll.

Moreover, the level of negativity registered about a possible Brown candidacy came only from voters likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primary. Republicans are far less smitten with Brown.

“If we had asked everybody, you would have gotten a much lower level of ‘good thing,’ ” response to the question about the possibility of a Brown campaign, DiCamillo said.

As for Brown’s supporters, DiCamillo suggested they might just want to keep him to themselves.

“Usually for a sitting governor, (voters) don’t really want him to abandon the job that he’s doing to go off running around the country and running for president,” DiCamillo said. “It takes a lot of time, and you’re pretty much letting go of your job responsibilities while you’re doing that.”

Brown has overcome concerns about his in-state responsibilities before. He ran for president twice when he was governor from 1975 to 1983. So have other governors. Most recently, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton ran successfully for president.

Still, there is precedent for in-state uneasiness about governors with presidential ambitions. Before then-Gov. Pete Wilson briefly entered the presidential contest in 1996, Californians flinched. More than six in 10 voters at the time doubted Wilson’s ability to campaign and run the state at the same time, according to the Field Poll.

In the Republican presidential primary this year, polling in New Jersey found voter skepticism about Chris Christie’s ability to perform his duties while running for president. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is polling behind in his home state despite his relatively high public approval ratings.

And in Wisconsin, only about one-third of voters said they wanted to see Gov. Scott Walker run for president before he dropped out of the race, according to a Marquette University Law School poll.

Ken Hudson, a Democrat from Fresno County, said he hopes Brown doesn’t enter the presidential campaign only because he prefers Sanders. Some Clinton supporters who admire Brown feel the same way.

“The more people in there, the muddier the water gets,” said Eva Rea-Maynez, a Democrat from Fresno. “If Hillary wasn’t running or somebody competent like her wasn’t running, I think Jerry Brown would be an awesome president.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders