CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Rolling Along Campaign Trail With Garamendi, Brown

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

"On the road again . . . like a band of gypsies we go down the highway."

--"On the Road Again," Willie Nelson

Out for Mother's Day drives for attention and votes, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Kathleen Brown and John Garamendi toured California byways on separate and very unequal buses Sunday, with Garamendi getting extra notice because he was on crutches, wearing a temporary brace on a freshly fractured right leg.

State Treasurer Brown, the front-runner in the opinion polls, whose campaign treasury is flush with cash, toured from San Diego's Mission Bay to Orange County in a cushy bus with overstuffed chairs, a refrigerator, a fax machine and a television set with videotape player.

Insurance Commissioner Garamendi, the underfinanced underdog, had, in effect, bummed a ride with the Basque dance troupe that performed at Garamendi's 23rd annual Basque barbecue fund-raising affair on Saturday at the Garamendi ranch in the Sierra foothills near Mokelumne Hill. During the event, the strapping 6-foot-2-inch candidate fell from a tree while trying to fix some short-circuited lights.

Garamendi spent most of Saturday night at a Sacramento hospital emergency room, where he was treated for a broken fibula, the smaller of the two main bones in the lower leg. But he got on the bus Sunday morning and went on with the day, although he grimaced in pain at times.

Rolling down California 99 in an ordinary 45-foot bus, his wife showed reporters her husband's UC Berkeley yearbook, featuring a photo of the California Bears football star with a broken wrist.

"He does real well with broken bones," said Patti Garamendi, associate director of the Peace Corps. "I guess we're really rolling now."

Garamendi, 49, the self-styled populist challenger, drove down the heart of California's great Central Valley, from Stockton to Bakersfield, through towns where most of the radio stations that don't play Willie Nelson feature Christian evangelists. Its Democrats tend to be of conservative stripe.

Brown, 48, traveled with her daughter, Hilary Armstrong, 28, Armstrong's twin 2-year-olds, Katherine and Brandon, two aides and two reporters. They planned to end the day in Studio City at a dinner with four generations of Brown women, led by matriarch Bernice Brown, wife of former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown.

Brown's day began with brunch at a Mission Bay hotel. Half an hour after leaving there, her bus made an impromptu stop at a nursery and garden supply store in the northern San Diego suburb of Carlsbad.

"We've got to help California business," Brown said. "Maybe I'll get something for my mother."

The first potential voter she talked to at the nursery happened to be a jurist appointed first to the municipal court by former Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, and then elevated recently to the San Diego County Superior Court by Wilson.

But Judge Joan Weber, who lives in Solana Beach, is a Democrat, and spotting Brown, she told her 5-year-old daughter, Allison: "There aren't a lot of woman governors, so shake her hand. She's a rare commodity."

"We're rooting for you all the way," she told Brown.

Brown was given a Mother's Day rose by 41-year-old Kevin O'Neill, sales manager of a nearby Honda auto dealership. He asked Brown to sign a card for his wife, Holly, who was at home with the couple's first child, Sheila, born May 3. O'Neill said he was a supporter and had already contributed to her campaign.

"How are car sales?" Brown asked.

"Oh, they're good," O'Neill said. "Consumer confidence is up. Sales are up."

Standing amid flats of bright petunias, Brown talked about her jobs program.

O'Neill said: "You get 'em jobs and I'll sell 'em cars."

Before leaving, Brown bought two white hydrangea plants in a basket for her mother for $17.62.

The Garamendi bus trip was a one-time tour of convenience that appeared to be designed to prevent Brown from getting exclusive access to news outlets on what might have been a slow day.

The 17-member Gauden Bat Basque Dance Troupe was headed south anyway, so the Garamendi campaign joined the troupe in chartering a bigger bus.

Southbound on Route 99, the troupe sang traditional Basque songs, punctuated by occasional verses from the theme of the television program, "The Brady Bunch."

When Garamendi arrived at the first event--a Mother's Day breakfast at a Stockton senior citizens home--one woman declared: "I'm 96 years old!"

Garamendi hobbled over to her, stretched out a big hand and said, "I'm 49--and I'm not in very good physical shape."

In Modesto, Garamendi joined a Cinco de Mayo parade, riding in a borrowed Mercedes convertible. The small crowd clapped appreciatively. Reporters likely would have recorded it as an especially warm reception, had it not been for the overwhelming welcome accorded to the blonde actress in the car behind him.

Many of those sitting on the curb applauding Garamendi jumped to their feet and cheered at the sight of Felicia Mercado, the star of a Mexican soap opera.

Garamendi visited another home for seniors in Merced and a children's hospital in Fresno and planned to wind up the tour with a barbecue in Bakersfield.

Garamendi said he was determined to continue his breakneck campaign schedule after a visit to the orthopedist today, but that his injury might keep him from fulfilling his pledge to work other people's jobs in all of California's 58 counties by Election Day, June 7.

As of Sunday, he had worked 84 jobs in 55 counties. With his leg immobilized, his plan to muck gold at the bottom of a mine in Sierra County was questionable.

"I'm going to do it," Garamendi insisted, but that still would leave Mendocino and Lassen counties.

Brown's Sunday drive was different. It was the second day of her new mode of campaigning throughout California by bus. For each of the four weeks before the primary, Brown is expected to spend much of the time traveling in her bus and emphasizing the impact of the recession on California.

Brown said that the bus was a natural transition to the final stretch of the primary campaign, and she welcomed it:

"You're on the ground. You are with real people. I feel so much more at home talking to average Californians about their families, their hopes, their dreams, their fears."

Campaign bus tours are not new. But the idea earned special cachet in 1992, when newly nominated candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore defied tradition, and set out from the Democratic National Convention in New York City by bus to campaign in the Midwest.

In fact, one of the organizers of the Clinton-Gore bus tours, Ed Emerson, is on leave from the White House to serve as tour director of the Brown bus campaign.

Twenty-four years ago, as he sought a second term, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan campaigned extensively in Central and Southern California on a more lavish bus than Brown's.

Loaned to Reagan by a wealthy friend from the entertainment industry, the vehicle instantly was nicknamed "the Lassie bus:" It was, in ordinary times, used to transport the collie star of the "Lassie" TV show to locations for shooting. The bus driver confided that his young son would often comb the carpet for Lassie hair to sell to his buddies at school.

Stall reported en route from San Diego to Anaheim with Brown, and Wallace from between Stockton and Bakersfield with Garamendi.

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