THE TORTURED SOUL OF A HIRED GUN : CLINT REILLY IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL--AND FEARED--POLITICAL OPERATIVES IN CALIFORNIA. HE IS ALSO HIS OWN WORST ENEMY.

Times staff writer Amy Wallace is covering the California gubernatorial campaign. Her last article for the magazine profiled videodating king Jeffrey Ullman

To understand political consultant Clinton Reilly--the hard-charging, number-crunching, message-honing, score-evening, candidate-firing, vitriol-spewing millionaire who is running Democrat Kathleen Brown's campaign for governor--the autumn of 1993 is a good place to start.

One year before Election Day, Reilly was looking for work. Fresh from Los Angeles, where he had helped Richard Riordan beat the odds and become mayor, the San Francisco-based strategist had no major California clients. The problem was, in partisan races at least, he worked almost exclusively for Democrats, and the Democrats at the top of the ticket--Kathleen Brown and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein--had already hired their campaign teams.

Shut out, Reilly then did what no other political player in California would dare to do--he met with Joe Shumate, a top adviser to Gov. Pete Wilson, and discussed if he could play a role in reelecting the state's top Republican. Weeks later, he talked to Congressman Michael Huffington about managing his campaign for Feinstein's seat. Reilly had consorted with the Republican enemy. In his business, that just isn't done. "It's like the Hatfields and McCoys," says Wilson's campaign manager, George Gorton. "You switch sides, and neither side trusts you." Then, Reilly switched sides again. Last March, a few months after talking to Wilson's forces, he stepped in to rescue Brown's floundering campaign.

It was the kind of maneuver that has made Reilly one of California's most feared and envied political consultants--and one of the most brilliant. If you don't believe it, just ask him. To hear Reilly talk, he is to other consultants what L'Oreal is to Prell--the one candidates hire because they're worth it. He's the big gun, the closer, the one you call when money is no object. And Reilly lives up to his own hype just often enough to make it seem true.

In more than two decades, Reilly has run winning campaigns for some of California's best-known politicians, including Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Tony Coehlo, Bill Honig, Robert Matsui, Nancy Pelosi and David Roberti. He has helped elect the current mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Even his sharpest critics say Reilly knows the California electorate--where it lives, how it thinks, why it votes--as well as any political operative in the state. Reilly knows how to reach people, and that's what politicians pay him handsomely to do. The 47-year-old son of a Bay Area milkman wears Italian suits, drives a lipstick-red Jaguar and lives just down the street from Robin Williams in a three-story Seacliff home that looks out at the Golden Gate Bridge.

More powerful than many candidates he's helped elect, more influential than most Democratic party officials, Reilly epitomizes the modern campaign consultant. His loyalty lies not with his party but with himself, and his egotism is legendary. So is his paranoia. He is "Nixonian," says one colleague. "Queeg-like," says another. State Sen. Quentin Kopp, a former client, refers to him fondly as "Satan."

In what is essentially an anonymous profession, Reilly has a knack for attracting attention, and not all of it flattering. In 1988, he managed--and lost--what remains the most expensive political campaign in state history, the insurance industry's $63.8 million effort to beat back reform. (Reilly's firm netted at least $6 million). In 1989, after working for months on Feinstein's gubernatorial campaign, he noisily fired the candidate, faxing a press release to the media that claimed she lacked the gumption to become governor. (They haven't spoken since.)

Last year, Reilly went to the San Francisco Examiner for a talk with Publisher William R. Hearst and Executive Editor Phil Bronstein. Reilly left on a stretcher with a broken ankle that required nine screws and a metal plate to fix. Though subsequent litigation never established whether Bronstein or Reilly was the aggressor, it did reveal that Reilly injects testosterone, a tidbit that only enhanced his fearsome reputation. (According to Reilly, his doctor prescribes the injections to correct a hormone imbalance.)

"When the opponent knows you have (him) on your side, a chill goes up their spine," says San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan. "He's certainly better to have inside the tent than outside."

Now, Reilly faces his toughest test. Can he reinvigorate Kathleen Brown's once promising campaign and propel her to victory? If he succeeds in electing the first woman governor of California, one thing is sure. Nothing will stand in the way of Clint Reilly. Except, perhaps, himself.

Reilly is holding court in the restored San Francisco warehouse that houses the Clinton Reilly Group. He sits in a conference room at one end of a long, sleek table. As always, he wears an expensive suit--today, it's navy blue--a starched white shirt, a designer tie and patterned socks. The ovals of his wire-rimmed glasses are perched high on his pale, prominent nose. Unsmiling, he fiddles with an Evian bottle cap and crosses and uncrosses his legs.

Nine members of Kathleen Brown's campaign staff sit around the table, and judging by the accumulation of empty coffee cups, they've been there for hours. The question at hand: how to energize the electorate--"to turn it on," says Reilly, "so it votes." The answer sounds simple: Demonize Pete Wilson. "Why is PW a bum?" asks the hand-scrawled heading atop a big sheet of paper. The answers are taped to the walls. "California in decline . . . . Never done what he's said he'd do . . . . He's a blank . . . . 12 years asleep at the wheel . . . . He's a hypocrite."

After half a day's brainstorming, however, something is still missing. Reilly summons a female assistant who hurries off, returning a moment later with a folder stuffed with mailers from previous Reilly campaigns. He picks out a lustrous Riordan-for-mayor brochure. "The declining city," he says, displaying a glossy four-color photograph of graffiti-scarred Los Angeles streets. "Everybody sees it. It's not a core issue, it's a symbolic issue. Then, you've got crime," he says, pointing to another slick image: a gloved hand, aiming a revolver directly at the camera. What the Brown campaign lacks, Reilly says, are visual cues that show voters why California needs a change.

"That's one of our problems. It's the worst recession since the Great Depression. But how do you portray a middle-class Depression?" he asks, thinking aloud. "It's not bread lines. It's a whole new image for the '90s. And we need to capture that. We need to show people how four more years of Wilson will hurt them." This is the Reilly trademark, distilling a race down to a few stark ideas. Political consultants like to boast of their ability to identify the themes that underlie a given election, but what sets Reilly apart is his capacity to condense those themes in evocative, elegantly produced television ads and mailers.

"The guy's a genius," Riordan says. "He's weird. But he's a genius."

To bring home the threat of crime during the 1993 Los Angeles mayoral race, Reilly created a mailer about rape in Hollywood, the district that Riordan's opponent, City Councilman Mike Woo, had represented for years. The text of the ad was mostly statistics. But its frightening series of photos caught the eye: a young woman, her face out of focus, with a spreading stain of red that looked alarmingly like blood. "Mike Woo," said the punch line. "A Record on Crime That Could Kill You."

Other consultants specialize--in mail, in television, in polling, in campaign management. Reilly prides himself on running a full-service firm, which he has deliberately modeled on a commercial advertising agency. He even went so far as to locate the Clinton Reilly Group in San Francisco's ad district. It is, he says, a "real company" that makes a profit by meeting his clients' every need, from speech writing to graphic design. Other consultants may ride the peaks and valleys of the campaign cycle by downsizing during the off-season. Reilly employs as many as 15 people regardless. Which, of course, costs money.

"He always talks about overhead," says Dick Pabich, a Democratic political consultant. "We joke about his middle name: Clint 'Overhead' Reilly. You can't have a 10-minute conversation without it coming up." Not coincidentally, Reilly tends to work with deep-pocketed candidates. "His talent is he is able to convince his clients that they have to spend a lot of money," says Ron Smith, a Republican political consultant. "I hope that comes off as a compliment."

What do candidates get in return? His formidable ability to target key voters--a discipline known as "narrowcasting." Using a computer-generated breakdown of the electorate, Reilly identifies groups of like-minded voters (white Democratic women who voted in five of the last six elections, for example). Then, he fills their mailboxes with custom-made Reilly brochures that dovetail with pointed Reilly television commercials. "(You don't) talk vanilla to people who want chocolate or strawberry or rocky road," he says.

Most important, Reilly's clients get Reilly himself: a shrewd but unforgiving perfectionist, a relentless taskmaster who, during a campaign, rarely sleeps. "He is a nocturnal animal," says Jack Davis, a San Francisco consultant. "He does his best work in the darkness." There are many tales of his 3 a.m. telephone calls, and until about a year and one-half ago, he did not own a wrist watch. "He didn't want to know what time it was," says his younger brother, Kevin. "It was a way to extend his day and give it that little bit more that he could give it."

When talking about the campaigns he has run, Reilly has a habit of referring to "the candidates I've elected," speaking in a shorthand that strips the candidates themselves of any credit. The message is clear: Reilly is not merely an employee but a partner. Politicians aren't the only ones with something to lose. Reilly's reputation also is on the line.

"When it's all over, you can't give excuses for why you didn't win," says Reilly, sitting on an oversized couch in his cream-colored living room. Freshly cut roses sit in a vase, and the housekeeper has left a neat stack of logs in the fireplace, which Reilly has lit. "You basically have to live with the result for the rest of your career, for the rest of your life. So pretty soon, you start to say (to candidates), 'Hey, look! If you don't have the money, you're not going to win, so get the money!' You start saying to campaign workers, 'Hey look, this isn't a trial run here.' " He pauses. "They don't like it sometimes. And they don't like you."

This take-no-prisoners behavior has taken its toll on Reilly. It has isolated him; few people call him a friend. "People either hate him and despise him or hate him and admire him," says one former Reilly employee who puts himself in the latter group. "We used to refer to his mansion as Xanadu. The implication was that he was wandering around talking to the pictures."

" 'Why do they walk away from me?' " Tony Coehlo, the former congressman from Merced, remembers Reilly lamenting. " 'I've helped them win and now they're attacking me? Why?' He gets hurt, really hurt, when people turn against him."

Instead of dissuading clients, Reilly's obsessiveness only adds to his allure. "You have to understand how much these people want to be elected. They're people who want it so bad," says one former Reilly employee. "They hire Clint because they know he has a monster in him, and that's what they think they need to win."

At Christmastime, 1969, Bess and Joe Reilly received a letter from the eldest of their 10 children. Clinton Thomas Reilly was 22 years old--the right age, he wrote, to tell his parents "thanks." But the seven-page letter contained more than gratitude. It revealed the aspirations of a driven idealist who yearned to "drain myself in the service of others."

"I am a restless man and cannot settle for least best," Reilly wrote in careful script on lined notebook paper. "There is a strange will for perfection--not in detail but in vision--which threads my action during the day and often keeps me awake at night. . . ."

Reilly had recently left the seminary, ending nine years of study, and had decided to work in politics. "Where would I be now if your entire lives had been dedicated to the pursuit of money?" he asked his parents. "Would I be in a graduate school of business somewhere, waiting to become an executive trainee for a large corporation? What a dull--unexciting life that would be--and what a barren future that would hold.

"I am also aware that little can be done without money. Since I am primarily a doer, I plan to make enough of it to stay alive. My meager talents are worth plenty to someone! And I promise to make him pay!"

Reilly was born in Oakland in 1947, and he says he was drawn to politics even as a child. In the fifth grade, he was elected class president under the banner "Take a Hint, Vote for Clint"--a slogan crafted by his campaign manager and younger sister, Jill. Years older than their other siblings, Clint and Jill were inseparable, best friends, and when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 11, "it was like a bullet that hit you and didn't hit me. I had a feeling of a certain responsibility that came to me."

Reilly's mother, a recent convert to Catholicism, was raising her children in the Church. As Jill fought her illness, her faith became more intense. "She wanted to be a nun," her mother says, and soon after Jill's death, Clint announced his desire to enter the seminary. The Reilly family moved to a new home in the working-class city of San Leandro, and when Clint was 14, he went to live at St. Joseph's Seminary in Mountain View. Pursuing the priesthood, he earned his college degree in philosophy and under the supervision of his favorite professor, the Rev. Eugene J. Boyle, he got his first taste of social activism.

In 1968, while in college, Reilly led a group of seminarians in producing a local version of the Kerner Commission report, the analysis of racial tensions that was written in the wake of the 1967 summer riots. The resulting 577-page "Little Kerner Report" concluded that white San Franciscans were "sleeping through a revolution." (Mayor Joseph Alioto scoffed, calling the report "the product of 21-year-old students who have been secluded in their seminary and not in contact with the objective facts.") A year later, Reilly left the seminary just three and one-half years shy of taking his vows. After a brief stint working for Planned Parenthood, he threw himself into politics.

"I think initially, intuitively, I wanted to get involved in politics because that was a place where you could improve people's lives and make the biggest impact on the direction of the world," says Reilly. "It was a pure motivation."

In 1974, Reilly urged Father Boyle, well known as a liberal activist, to run for the state Assembly against another Democrat, John Francis Foran. "Loyal to the People," was the slogan Reilly devised for Boyle, and the underdog candidate was gaining ground by the day. Then, at the last minute, Foran sent out a campaign mailer that showed a photograph of what was purported to be Boyle's residence: a building that looked like a cross between the White House and "The Beverly Hillbillies" mansion. "Why doesn't Father Boyle practice what he preaches?" the mailer asked. In truth, the building was the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. Nobody lived there. Still, the hit piece succeeded. Boyle lost by a few hundred votes, and Reilly's days as a political ingenue were over.

"That was a real turning point for Clint," says John Thiella, a State Board of Equalization staffer who worked with Reilly on several campaigns during the '70s and '80s. "(Afterward), he understood that it wasn't just the right ideology and goodness that led to success. You had to do some harsh things to win."

Reilly puts it differently: "I learned the power of money."

He certainly wasn't making any. For most of the '70s, Reilly estimates that his campaign work earned him only a few thousand dollars a year. To make a living, he opened a high-class junk shop that sold traffic lights, milk cans, apple crates, Mao buttons--anything that would bring in cash. Reilly's break came in 1979 when he ran San Francisco Supervisor Quentin Kopp's campaign for mayor, forcing heavily favored incumbent Dianne Feinstein into a runoff. Kopp lost, but Reilly was on the map.

By his own admission, Reilly was drinking heavily during this period. "He was a Remy Martin kind of guy," says his friend Jack Davis. In the middle of the Kopp campaign, Reilly was arrested for drunk driving and resisting arrest, according to police records. Then, while he was running the 1980 reelection campaign of then-Van Nuys Congressman Jim Corman, a Democrat, something happened between him and a girlfriend that would haunt him for years.

"Did you ever hit (your girlfriend)? Did you ever grab (her) in anger? Did you cause injury to (her)?"--lawyers for the San Francisco Examiner would pepper Reilly with these questions 13 years later, in response to the lawsuit he filed after his ankle injury. During legal proceedings, Reilly's lawyer advised him not to answer. Still, by the time the newspaper settled--paying Reilly somewhere between $400,000 and $900,000--the alleged incident with his former girlfriend had become part of the Reilly lore. As the San Jose Mercury News put it: "Is . . . Clint Reilly a testosterone-crazed, woman-beating bully . . . ?"

"I just don't feel it's fair to ask me to answer that question," he says, grimacing as he paces his office at Kathleen Brown's headquarters. "I have acknowledged that I had a drinking problem, and that I also had problems coping with the pressures of the work. I stopped drinking in 1981 and sought counseling and even continue today to see the counselor that I saw back then. A number of things I did were destructive. And I felt it was real important for me to sort of look at myself and my behavior and make significant changes."

Reilly insists that he had gotten ahold of himself by the time he opened his firm in 1982. With more than 30 campaigns behind him, it was time to make money. "I began to say to myself, 'Well, gee, somebody who gets a job for $125,000 as a result of what I do and who may have that job for life. Because of his own good efforts but also what I did for him, he's earned a ton of money, he's gotten a lot of personal psychic rewards, he's gotten to be a famous person. Now why in the heck should I do this for 2,000 bucks a month?"

He started demanding more money and getting it--at least six figures a campaign. Still, some candidates flinched. In 1982, after Reilly orchestrated a decisive primary victory for Barbara Boxer in her first congressional race, Boxer fired him for exceeding her campaign budget and leaving her in debt. "It's very expensive to have a manager like Clint," she said at the time. It could also be maddening. In the midst of the campaign, Reilly demanded that Boxer mortgage her house to raise more cash. When she refused, he went to her husband, who told Reilly to get out of his office. (Boxer refused to comment on the incident, saying it was "personal.")

But Reilly was getting to be known as a winner. In the early years, he had lost business because he was not part of the San Francisco political machines of then-Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy or Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. By the mid-'80s, though, Reilly's nonalignment had become an asset. Plenty of candidates sought his services, and he was free to work for whomever he wished. Soon, his behavior made some wonder if there was anything he wouldn't do.

There was the way he conducted the 1988 insurance initiative campaign, spending what many people think was an obscene amount of money--and making a fair bit himself. (Afterward, he says, "I basically didn't have to work a day in my life for the rest of my life.") There was the way he publicly ditched Feinstein in 1989. ("That was bad judgment, a humbling experience for an arrogant man. But I'll tell you what it did. It got Dianne off her ass.") And there was the way, in 1990, he sought to work on behalf of a pro-development ballot measure in San Francisco. When the developers hired a rival consultant, Reilly turned around and spent $150,000 of his own money to defeat it. ("I think the message was adequately communicated.")

Reilly had come to understand that money was more than merely a way "to stay alive," as he'd written his parents in 1969. Money was the enduring currency of power. Money bought freedom--to be generous, perhaps, or to even old scores. And money commanded one of the things Reilly most craved: respect. No longer the idealistic 22-year-old, compelled to serve others, Reilly wanted to be appreciated, and experience had shown him that people appreciated what they paid for. He had learned this lesson, but he resented those who had taught him.

"In many ways, I see him as a high-priced call girl," says Calvin Welch, a community activist in San Francisco whom many describe as Reilly's Father-confessor. "On the one hand he greatly luxuriates in charging people top dollar and spending an incredible amount of money and having that reputation, which means he will only go after certain kinds of candidates. On the other hand, he despises those people for thinking they can buy Clint Reilly."

Kathleen Brown sat down with Clint Reilly for the first time last March. Attorney Bill Wardlaw, a Brown adviser who had worked closely with Reilly on the Riordan campaign, hosted the afternoon session in his West Los Angeles office. Immediately, Brown says, she was struck by Reilly's sophisticated analysis of California politics. Although the meeting had been arranged less than 24 hours before, Reilly had sketched out a formula for victory--"He diagnosed my campaign better than anyone had in a year and a half," she says.

As darkness fell, Brown saw something else. "After about 2 1/2 hours, the lights went out--the building had closed down," Brown remembers. "He kept right on going--(talking about) the Inland Empire margin of victory. We continued our conversation in semi-darkness. It was unusual." Impressed by his intensity, Brown offered Reilly the job of campaign chairman. "He is a warrior. A commando. There's nothing that comes across the transom that unnerves him or distracts him from the focus of this campaign."

Reilly's arrival unnerved some of Brown's campaign staff, however. Within days of Brown's decision, campaign manager Teresa Vilmain, policy director Roy Behr and media consultant Jim Margolis all resigned--opting to "make the tough decision now," Margolis said in a statement, "rather than face difficulties later." Reilly got what he wanted: complete control.

Reilly appeared to be just what Brown needed. Known for little more than her lineage, she lacked the very thing Reilly's candidates are known for--a sharply defined image. But along with his expertise, Reilly brought his reputation as a walking cluster bomb. One woman fund-raiser who had worked for Brown for three years quit the campaign without even meeting him because of what she had heard. Other staffers had heard the stories, too. There were so many, they were impossible to avoid.

Among the things people claim to have seen Reilly do over the years: comment on the size of a woman's breasts in front of a roomful of male colleagues; inform a male employee that he wanted "to vomit" at the sight of him; reduce men and women staffers to tears; throw paper clips; punch a wall repeatedly next to an employee's head; pound a chair up and down; break a glass ashtray by slamming it on a table; knock the telephone receiver out of a woman's hand while she was talking; chase an employee down a street.

"That's one that does have a kernel of truth to it," Reilly says of the last example. According to two sources, in the midst of a 1986 supervisorial race, Reilly became so upset at mistakes made by a staffer named Laurie R. Glenn that he pursued her, shouting, out of his office and into the streets of San Francisco in the middle of the night. Reilly says that he can't recall precisely what occurred. "I wasn't chasing her down the street," he says. "I think, actually, she was chasing me." (Glenn declined to comment.)

Reilly hates the subject of his temper, even though he often brings it up himself. When asked to explain it, he is by turns irate, contemptuous and remorseful. He concedes that he can be out of control sometimes and unnecessarily hurtful, though "much, much less than legend would have it." That kind of anger "there's no excuse for," he says. "I feel badly about it." During a campaign, though, Reilly says he uses anger strategically. Candidates "are not hiring me because they want me to get along with everybody. They're hiring me because they want to win. The campaign is a war, you know?" And rage is a tactical weapon.

"We human beings on many levels are motivated by our desire to look good in front of our colleagues, and (by) the fear of shame," he says, explaining why he has humiliated staffers in the presence of others. "I want it to be a public experience (so) that you know that everyone in the whole organization is going to know that you f- - -ed up."

Reilly isn't entirely wrong. He may have trouble getting along with people, but in the most fundamental sense, he understands them. He has pondered their motivations for years--as a seminarian, as a philosophy student, as a campaigner, as a boss. He has made a fortune by identifying and appealing to voters' hopes and fears. He is a professional manipulator. That, say several former colleagues, is what makes him so cruel.

"The man possesses a superhuman ability to zero in on your emotional or psychological vulnerability. Clint's weapon is words, and I've never seen anybody who can hit you so on the mark," says one former employee who echoed the descriptions of dozens of others. Reilly often seems "loopy" and "out there," this person says, but when he cuts into you, he does so with surgical precision. "That Jesuit training was really something he paid attention to. That priestly kind of power over you is there. It's not just about a boss telling you you didn't get enough widgets done. It's about a priest making a fundamental comment about (your) character."

As Reilly excoriates others, Calvin Welch says, he also flays himself. "He is a guy at war with himself. There's the seminarian. There's the hard-boiled campaigner. And then there's what you could call the friend. Sometimes they don't fit together. He is basically troubled by doubts as to whether or not he made the right decisions in his life."

In 1991, those doubts made Reilly quit campaigning. He was exhausted, he said, and disillusioned. "In my experience, most politicians are not up to the task," he told the San Francisco Chronicle in announcing his retirement. But few people thought he would stay out of the game for long. Politics had made him a man about town in San Francisco--a staple of Herb Caen's column, he escorted beautiful women to expensive restaurants and hosted extravagant parties at his home. As many had predicted, he was back at work within months, joining Frank Jordan's long-shot campaign for mayor. He had decided to reconcile himself, he now says, to "certain realities of the business that will never change: the wear and tear, the continuous, the seven days a week, 16 hours a day, day after day after day."

There are obvious payoffs--his museum quality art collection, his private beach, his up-close view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But they come at a price. Reilly says he doesn't have to justify his temper, his wealth, his work. Still, he never stops doing so. "Look, you know . . . I am who I am and I am what I am and I'm proud of what I am," he says. "I enjoy what I do. It's exciting. It's exhilarating. It's fun. But it's also very difficult. It's tiring. It's emotionally draining. It's sometimes frustrating. It's full of tension. . . . Sometimes, one doesn't have total serenity about everything that you do. But, in general, I, you know . . . I am not at peace. I'm at a relative state of happiness, with a lot of tension in there as well."

The San Francisco fund-raiser was going marvelously. The ballroom of the St. Francis Hotel was packed with nearly 1,000 Kathleen Brown supporters who had paid at least $500 a plate. "Here Comes the Sun," blared from the loudspeaker as Brown and Vice President Al Gore entered the room and began working their way through a crowd that included several other Reilly clients. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was seated at the head table. State Sen. Milton Marks and former Supt. of Schools Bill Honig were a few tables away. Reilly's girlfriend--a Riordan staffer named Janet Koewler--also was there, sitting at his side. But Reilly's gaze rarely settled on anyone but Brown and her special guest.

Reilly is running the race of his life. If Brown ousts Gov. Pete Wilson, she will instantly become the most prominent woman in American politics, and Reilly could be catapulted into the national fray as well. "Clint wants to elect a President," says one observer. Already, there is speculation that if Brown wins, Reilly's old friend Tony Coehlo, now at the Democratic National Committee, may try to land him a job on President Clinton's reelection campaign.

But that's a big if. Reilly has yet to arrest Brown's slide. Although he has brought discipline to the Brown campaign, her lead--which had hit a high of 23 points in May, 1993--is now a distant memory. The Los Angeles Times poll in mid-September had Brown behind by nine points among likely voters. With the election five weeks away, Kathleen Brown is still struggling with the problem that has vexed her from the start: explaining to voters why she is an alternative to Pete Wilson, why she should be California's next leader.

Reilly insists that the 1994 election is about effectiveness. He says he's convinced that if the campaign can connect Wilson to the decline of California, voters will turn to Brown. Thus, most of the 30 different television ads he has created for Brown do little more than attack Wilson. But you can't beat something with nothing, and for all of Reilly's efforts, Brown's political identity remains almost as unfocused today as when she hired him.

Still, Brown remains optimistic, saying Reilly, whom she's paid more than $690,000 in commissions and fees so far, is worth the price. "All the polls last year were not realistic assessments of what the race was going to be about. I knew that," she said in late August. Because of Reilly, "we are right where I needed to be--in a neck-and-neck race with an incumbent governor who will be defeated in November."

Not everyone is so sure. "(Reilly) is the best opener I've ever seen. He can handicap a race, he can analyze the electorate, figure out what votes are needed where. He's almost worth his fee for that alone," says longtime confidant, Calvin Welch. "He never gets crazy at the beginning because he has it all figured out. But when things don't unfold the way they're supposed to--the candidate wears the wrong dress, some bozo doesn't get the third mailer out to the left-handed Lithuanians -- But his great weakness is his end game. That's when he loses it. ."

Clint Reilly hasn't lost it so far. He hasn't thrown anything, hasn't reduced a staffer to tears. But he continues to flog himself. He hasn't taken a day off since he joined the Brown campaign (he has been known to chide staffers who have). He sees his girlfriend infrequently. On their one-year anniversary in June, she gave him a frame to hold a picture of the two of them. Today, it sits empty--there's been no time to pose for a photo.

"This is the most important race for governor anywhere in the country," Vice President Gore told the audience at Brown's fund-raiser. Reilly's girlfriend gave his hand a squeeze. "This is a bus," Gore continued, "we cannot and will not allow to stall." Reilly probably couldn't have said it any better himself.

THE CLIENTS

"He is a warrior. A commando. Nothing unnerves him."

STATE TREASURER KATHLEEN BROWN

(1994 gubernatorial race)

"The guy's a genius. He's weird. But he's a genius."

LOS ANGELES MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN

(1993 mayoral race)

"When opponents know you have (him), a chill goes up their spine."

SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR FRANK JORDAN

(1991 mayoral race)

"It's very expensive to have a manager like Clint."

SENATOR BARBARA BOXER

(1982 congressional race)

"He gets hurt, really hurt, when people turn against him."

FORMER CONGRESSMAN TONY COELHO

(1982, '84, '86 congressional races)

She and Reilly have not spoken in five years.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN

(1983 mayoral race)

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