Jerry Brown is a slightly comic candidate -- ex-governor, out of office, studied Zen, worked for Mother Theresa, dated Linda Ronstadt, rails against the establishment, for term limits, against campaign contributions from special interests. Insists "Washington" is the problem. Elevates a few bounced congressional checks to a presidential-issue level. The last candidates this out of the mainstream were -- Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
We do not consider Mr. Brown another Carter or Reagan. We would be as surprised as anyone -- including, perhaps, Mr. Brown himself -- if he were able to win his party's presidential nomination. But he is probably going to win a lot of votes and affect other candidates' rhetoric. His anti-Washington theme is more appealing to the American people today than it was in 1975 or 1979, when the successful Carter and Reagan candidacies of 1976 and 1980 were launched.
In his announcement of candidacy, Mr. Brown referred not to his two terms as governor of California in the '70s; he hardly referred to politics at all. He likened his effort to something more transcendent, comparing himself to one of the soldiers at Valley Forge. "Let us each step forward and enlist as winter soldiers in the cause of America," he said.
Meanwhile, a more conventional Democratic leader, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, after nearly seven years of denying his willingness to run for president, now seems to be reconsidering. He said recently that his and the nation's situations have changed, implying he believes domestic issues will dominate in 1992 and that George Bush is vulnerable to a candidate like him. He acquiesced in the formation of a Draft Cuomo Committee.
Presidential drafts can be turned down. Whether Governor Cuomo turns this one down is an open question. He has promised to decide on a candidacy in November. The New Yorker would make an exciting race of it. He is the Democrats' best stump speaker. Whether he would make a close race out of it were he nominated to oppose President Bush is not as certain. Recent national polls show the president's ratings slipping. But recent New York polls still show him defeating Governor Cuomo there by a margin of nearly 2-1.