New shade of Brown woos Californians: Like her father and brother, Kathleen Brown wants to be the Golden State's governor, writes Phil Reeves in Los Angeles

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The Independent Online
SWITCH back the clock. It is 1962 in Chinatown, Los Angeles. A sweaty Richard Nixon, still smarting from an agonisingly close election defeat to John Kennedy, is stomping the streets in search of Asian votes to sate his next political hankering: the governorship of California.

As he stops to pose for photographs, a banner written in Chinese pops up behind him. Nixon grins away, unwittingly. Only later does he discover that it says 'What about the Hughes Loan?' - an allusion to a suspect deal between a member of his family and the billionaire businessman, Howard Hughes.

In the cut-throat world of West Coast politics, even the maestro of election skulduggery is vulnerable. The sign is the work of a trickster employed by his Democratic rival Edmund 'Pat' Brown, who went on to win, dispatching Nixon into the wilderness for six years. Four years later, Mr Brown would lose the job to another future president, Ronald Reagan.

Pat Brown, now 88, has receded into history, just as Nixon later did. Californians remember him as the grand old man of politics who oversaw a golden era that witnessed the creation of their freeway network, giant water system, and some of the world's finest higher education institutions. Now his name is being uttered once again, but under a new billing: the Father of a Great American Dynasty.

His daughter and fourth child, Kathleen, has announced she is a candidate for his job - a post once held by her brother Jerry, erstwhile contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Father Pat served two terms as governor, from 1958 to 1966; brother Jerry was there between 1974 and 1982. A victory by sister Kathleen would mean the Brown family had provided three out of only four Democrats this century to occupy one of the most coveted political posts outside Washington.

'If she won, it would be the grand slam . . . the all-time hat-trick of American politics,' says Patt Morrison, a commentator on Californian affairs. 'Even the Kennedys didn't pull off anything that good.' It would also be a grand slam of a different sort. Trend-setting California would have a female governor and - with Dianne Feinstein's certain re-election to office this November - two women senators.

Kathleen Brown, currently state treasurer, has the advantage of very little political baggage. She is articulate, telegenic and shrewd. Thanks in part to her second husband, Gordon Van Sauter, a top media executive (and a Republican), she has the support of much of Hollywood - including Richard Dreyfuss, Annette Bening and Warren Beatty.

She is expected to win the Democratic nomination, beating off a challenge from John Garamendi, a state insurance commissioner. If so, she will face a head-to-head with the incumbent Governor, Pete Wilson. Two months ago the unpopular Mr Wilson, a Republican, was written off as a no- hoper. But he is a political street-fighter: his ratings improved sharply after he launched successful campaigns against illegal immigrants, and for tougher measures on crime. Last month's Los Angeles earthquake played into his hands. There was plentiful footage of a concerned-looking Mr Wilson touring the wreckage. He is now trailing Ms Brown by a mere eight points.

There is another blot on Ms Brown's landscape: the possibility the electorate will not see her apart from her brother, one-time Zen Buddhist and newly employed host of a nationally syndicated radio show. 'Jerry is very, very unpopular in California,' said Dan Walters, an author on Californian politics, 'and the problem is that people remember him as governor better than they do his father.'

His sister will be praying he stays out of sight. 'Jerry is not all negatives,' said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst, 'but if she could kidnap him and lock him up for the duration of the election, she ought to.'