Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., the candidate with the 800 number, got a real message in last Tuesday's primaries. In a two-man race in New York, he came in third. Paul Tsongas, who was not a formal candidate, having "suspended" his campaigning last month, got 29 percent of the popular vote. Bill Clinton, whom Mr. Brown savaged in New York, got 41 percent. Mr. Brown got 26 percent. Clearly New York voters were telling him, in New York tabloid headline language: "Drop Dead."
As bad as Mr. Brown's showing was in New York, it was even worse in Kansas. There he came in fourth in a two-man race. Governor Clinton won the Kansas primary with 51 percent of the vote. Non-candidate Tsongas came in second with 15 percent. Uncommitted came in third with 14 percent. Jerry Brown got 13 percent.
In Wisconsin, Mr. Brown fared better, but he lost there by 38-35 percent. In Minnesota, Mr. Clinton defeated Mr. Brown by only 1,600 votes and 1 percentage point, but that was a "beauty contest" unrelated to the selection of convention delegates.
So on what should have been the best day of his campaign, having at last gotten Governor Clinton in a one-on-one situation, Mr. Brown lost all four contests. He is now two for 21 in primaries. In the first two primaries, when there were still five candidates, he came in a distant fifth. He came in a poor third in most of the races after the field was narrowed down to three. Now in a field of two, he struggles to come in second.
Jerry Brown is a clever politician. But voters see through him. He is not running for president. No rational person as unequivocally rejected at the polls in 19 states could honestly say he expects to be nominated, or expects voters to believe he expects to be. From here on out he is simply a destructive force, able to inflict wounds on Mr. Clinton that may or may not heal by November.
Mr. Brown has made it clear that he thinks his party is as corrupt as George Bush's. So the fact that he may make it easier for Mr. Bush to be re-elected probably does not concern him.
But it does concern Democrat leaders loyal to their cause and their constituents, even those not fully comfortable with Bill Clinton. Now is the time for them to make it clear to voters in remaining primary states, as long as Mr. Brown keeps running, that they do not consider a vote for him in the best interest of the Democratic Party, short term, long term, or any term. They should send him the message New York rank and file Democrats did.