With a down-in-the-dumps economy putting Californians in a sour mood, Democrat Jerry Brown is ending his bid for governor on a note of optimism, drawing on his family's long roots in the state to recall the pioneering spirit that beckoned so many here and can lead it out of troubled times.
At a campaign stop Sunday in Chico, a college town 90 miles north of Sacramento, Brown told a gathering of some 500 supporters how his great-grandfather came across the plains from Missouri in 1852 seeking a better future.
"People came because California was the land of opportunity. It was a different kind of opportunity in 1852 than it is today, but there were challenges. They had courage, they were willing to take risks, they were going into the unknown," Brown said at the Broadway Heights restaurant, where the crowd filled two stories of the building and spilled onto the street corner. "That pioneering spirit is exactly what will get us through again."
The problems that bedevil California, from high unemployment to persistent budget problems to a polarized political establishment, have been the dominant themes of the race between Brown and Republican candidate Meg Whitman.
Underlying their campaigns is what kind of future Californians want for their state.
At their various campaign stops, Brown and Whitman have been pitching contrasting approaches on state spending and offering voters a preview of their governing styles. Brown, the state attorney general and a former governor, has been playing up the experience he has gained as a seasoned public servant and his deep ties to the state, while Whitman is promising to "take back California" from tax-dependent public employee unions, cut state spending and enact tax cuts that would primarily benefit the wealthy.
Whitman, a former chief executive of eBay, is running for the first time for political office.
She and her supporters said they believe the same energy behind Republicans nationwide will result in a GOP sweep in California, enough to overcome a 13 percentage point Democratic voter registration advantage. A Field Poll released Thursday showed Brown with a double-digit lead over Whitman among likely voters, 49 percent to 39 percent.
"We have a chance to put a proven job creator in office for the first time in many, many years," Whitman said in rallying supporters on Saturday at the Orange County fairgrounds. "We have a chance to create real change in Sacramento. My bus, right there, it's called the 'Take Back Sac Express' because we're going to take back California for our children and our grandchildren."
Whitman's first campaign event on Sunday was a scheduled rally at a Burbank hotel in early afternoon.
Brown said the deep recession and California's persistent budget problems mean the next governor will face tough decisions immediately. He said he wants a "grand civic dialogue" that will include people from throughout the state and from all socio-economic backgrounds to talk about what they want California to be. Brown talked about unifying people rather than dividing them because he said every Californian has a stake in pulling the state out of its current tailspin.
He started his day on Sunday by telling a breakfast crowd of about 200 people gathered at the historic Samoa Cookhouse in the far North Coast near the hard-pressed lumber and fishing town of Eureka that although there are tough times ahead, he is optimistic about the state's future because it attracts entrepreneurial and resilient people.
"California has been a place that attracts people because they have a future," Brown said as he campaigns to return to the governor's office, which he held from 1975 to 1983. "You know, it attracted Meg Whitman 30 years ago. It is still attracting people. And why is it? Because here's a place, wherever you come from, you come to California and you're welcome."
Brown and Whitman have just two days to court voters ahead of Tuesday's election.
Brown was spending most of Sunday in Northern California before ending at a bar-and-grill in Riverside. He was traveling throughout the state on a chartered turboprop.
Whitman remained in Southern California, where she is schedule to attend an afternoon rally at a hotel near the Burbank airport.
Lin reported from Burbank.
© 2010 The Associated Press.