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Brown Easily Defeats Delgadillo

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Times Staff Writer

Jerry Brown, California’s iconoclastic ex-governor turned big city mayor, won the Democratic attorney general primary Tuesday in a bid to return to statewide office after a two-decade absence.

Brown, 68, held a commanding lead against Rocky Delgadillo, the Los Angeles city attorney who ran a spirited but uphill fight against a foe who remains a household name in California political circles.

“I feel confident -- yes I do!” declared Brown, Oakland’s mayor, as he disembarked from a black Lincoln Continental at his campaign celebration with his wife, Anne, and the family pet, a chubby black Labrador named Dharma.

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Later he appeared on stage at the Oakland Police Officers Assn. headquarters with his wife by his side to declare victory, invoking the name of his late father, former California attorney general and governor Pat Brown.

“As my father always said, I accept the nomination,” Brown proclaimed, before quipping, “but he’d say that anytime a crowd gathered.”

Brown told the gathering of police and political supporters, including current Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, that if elected California’s top cop he would give law enforcement’s rank and file “the tools you need to protect California from criminals and terrorists. I’m going to be there for ya. I got your back.”

Trailing badly from the beginning, Delgadillo, 45, conceded with about a third of the statewide vote in.

“We knew this was going to be a tough race when we got into it and we gave it our all, but we’ve come up just a bit short,” Delgadillo said.

He said he had tried to call Jerry Brown, who was busy at the time, but would call again.

“Now, as Democrats, we need to stand together for this fight in November,” Delgadillo said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure we have a Democrat in the AG’s office to protect our Democratic principles.”

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Brown is headed for a general election showdown with the GOP nominee, state Sen. Chuck Poochigian of Fresno, who has little statewide name recognition -- just 9% in one recent poll -- but solid conservative credentials and a reputation as a statehouse consensus builder.

Poochigian goes into the race with more than $3 million in his campaign coffers, far more than any other GOP candidate not named Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Poochigian can expect solid support among conservative voters who remember Brown’s gubernatorial stint between 1974 and 1982, when he was christened “Gov. Moonbeam” by wags. In his two terms as Oakland mayor, Brown tried to refashion his image as a more pragmatic politician intent on crime fighting and urban blight.

Poochigian’s strategists said they would hit Brown for his opposition to the death penalty as well as a history of persistent attempts to reach higher office, most notably three unsuccessful runs for president.

“Jerry Brown is a man always more interested in the job he’s seeking than the job he’s holding,” said Kevin Spillane, a Poochigian spokesman. “At his core he’s the same old Jerry -- opportunistic, insincere, calculating, overly ambitious.”

Ace Smith, Brown’s campaign strategist, said Poochigian is shackled by “an extreme record” as an opponent of stem cell research and assault weapon bans. He said Poochigian “carried the legislative water” for the pesticide and pharmaceutical industries as a lawmaker.

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The joke is that AG “really should stand for aspiring governor,” Smith said. “And the only candidate who fits that description is Chuck Poochigian. Jerry Brown simply wants to be the best attorney general in history.”

Delgadillo attempted early on in the Democratic primary fight to raise questions about Brown’s stand on the death penalty and his allegiance to supporters of abortion rights.

But in the final weeks of the campaign, Delgadillo shifted the focus, contrasting his efforts against gang crime in Los Angeles against a recent surge in homicides and other felonies in Oakland.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Delgadillo invested more than $2.5 million on TV ads, outspending Brown by more than 6 to 1.

Brown, with a big lead in the polls, didn’t mount a TV counterattack. His campaign spent less than $400,000 on a few upbeat biographical commercials played on cable channels.

Instead he relied on the Oakland Police Officers Assn. to come to his defense.

The association demanded that Delgadillo pull the crime ads, arguing the spots exaggerated the rise in crime. Brown’s campaign also accused Delgadillo, a Harvard graduate, of inflating his athletic credentials. He referred to himself as an All-American in football when in reality he received honorable-mention scholastic All-American honors.

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While those attacks received scant attention amid the well-publicized mud-slinging of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Brown’s ability to run a frugal campaign against Delgadillo leaves him with a bigger campaign kitty -- more than $4 million -- than his Republican rival heading into November’s general election.

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