Backers Shrink to Faithful Few as Brown Seeks Primary Votes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Evelyn Jones, a 58-year-old nurse-cum-nannie, cheered Saturday as she listened to former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. address a sparsely attended rally here. She wanted the Democratic presidential candidate to know that her vote would be proudly cast for him in the June 2 primary.

But, to her disappointment, that attitude does not extend to very many of her friends.

"I've been working my socks off to get people interested in him," she said, jostling among the 100 or so onlookers trying to shake Brown's hand after the rally. "But I couldn't get anyone interested. They're all so disillusioned. They don't think (Brown) or anyone else can do anything to change anything."

And so it went for Brown during a day of campaigning in this dry and sprawling community in which oil and agribusiness concerns dominate the local economy. With little more than a week remaining in the primary season, momentum seems to have long since passed Brown by. His supporters remain enthusiastic, but increasingly are few in number.

At the first of his two stops in Bakersfield--a chapter meeting of the Mexican American Political Assn.--about 75 people warmly cheered his promise to derail the fast-track negotiations for a proposed free trade agreement with Mexico.

"Instead of exporting jobs to Tijuana or Juarez, we need a living wage for Americans," Brown said, drawing the largest round of applause of his speech.

Acknowledging the small turnout, Brown told the group: "I don't care if it's 100 people or 10 people. If you pull together, you can be 1,000."

The next stop was at Bakersfield Central Park, where Brown told the faithful few that unless they supported his candidacy, working and middle-class people would "lose our democracy" to the avarice of the "greedy elite" represented by President Bush and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

"Wake up, America, while you can still do something about it," Brown admonished.

In an interview after the Bakersfield stops, Brown said he was not disappointed by the small crowds. Rather, he said, it reflects the disenfranchisement of low-income people.

"People who used to be at these rallies 20 to 25 years ago are middle class now and live in the suburbs," he said, noting that he would have drawn bigger crowds if he had campaigned in a shopping mall on the outskirts of town.

"The people left behind in towns and inner cities don't have unions or political parties to organize them for political participation. That's the reason I'm here," he said.

Brown began his day in San Bernardino, where he said work programs such as the California Conservation Corps hold the key to repairing battered American cities.

"This is what this country needs," he said. "If we can send $1 trillion of money going through the military for weapons of destruction, we can spend hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the young people of this country."

Brown created the California Conservation Corps in 1976 when he was governor.

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