Jerry, Can You Spare A Dime or Some Time For Democrats?

I’ve haven’t written much about politics here in California this cycle, in part because the statewide races are relatively sleepy. But there’s actually a lot on the line, beginning with the effort of Democrats to hang onto supermajorities in both state legislative chambers, which still matters in a state with supermajority requirements for new revenue measures.

And even though neither of the state’s U.S. Senate seats is up this year, there are by most accounts six competitive U.S. House races, three of them rated as tossups by Cook Political Report.

That makes it all the more curious that Gov. Jerry Brown is sitting on a large war chest, spending virtually nothing on his own campaign (he’s held consistent 15-20 point leads over Republican Neel Kashkari), and only loosening the purse strings a bit on behalf of ballot initiatives he supports, per this report last week from WaPo’s Reid Wilson:

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is confident he will be reelected to an unprecedented fourth term in office. He is so convinced by poll numbers showing him leading the race that he’s spending more of his money on advertisements for two ballot measures than on his own campaign.

Brown’s campaign reported spending more than $3.3 million on advertisements for Propositions 1 and 2, measures placed on November’s ballot by the state legislature. Campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state’s office shows Brown has spent only $500,000 on consultants, office space, insurance and other necessities on his own behalf — and he hasn’t run a single television advertisement this year….

Kashkari has far outspent Brown on television. Data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity shows he’s aired more than $2 million in TV ads. Earlier this week, Kashkari donated an additional $1 million to his own campaign, despite the public polling data.

Brown could easily swamp Kashkari: Filings show he’s got more than $20 million in the bank. But he said last week that he has no plans to spend that money. Instead, he told the Los Angeles Times that he plans to use his war chest to fund ballot measures in future, to mitigate any loss of power he might experience as he heads into what’s likely to be his final term in office.

On top of his miserliness, Brown’s taking time off during the final week of the campaign to attend the 50th reunion of his Yale Law School class. That’s in Connecticut, doncha know. Maybe Brown will lend a hand to embattled Democratic governor Dan Malloy.

Brown rarely if ever behaves conventionally, but you still have to wonder if there will be recriminations if Democrats undershoot expectations in California next Tuesday. It’s certainly too late for him to have a sudden burst of charity; not only has advertising time been bought up, but California’s a heavy vote-by-mail state (69% in the June primary) where a lot of votes have already been cast.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.