SACRAMENTO -- When Gov. Jerry Brown delivered his State of the State address to the Legislature last month, he made an unscripted remark that sounded a lot like a campaign slogan.

"There's no substitute for experience," he said with a sly smile.

Brown, a career politician, has been a governor for 11 years, state attorney general, secretary of state and Oakland mayor -- a record that by comparison makes the two men challenging him this year political novices. But unlike Republicans Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari, whose campaigns already are running at full speed and slamming Brown daily, the governor credited with erasing California's budget deficit is being coy about when he will make official his all-but-certain run for an unprecedented fourth term.

Governor Jerry Brown, 2013.
Governor Jerry Brown, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

Why wait?

With $17 million in the bank and a job approval rating of 60 percent among likely voters, political experts and consultants say, Brown can delay the formal start of his candidacy with little risk of hurting his chances in June's open primary or November's general election. He gets to put off answering tough questions about his aspirations or thorny policy problems.

Besides, making people sweat a little is part of the wily veteran's unorthodox style.

"Jerry Brown has been adroit at pitching himself as socially progressive and fiscally prudent, and any Democrat who makes that straddle in California cannot be defeated," said Garry South, a Democratic strategist who ran Gray Davis' two successful races for governor.


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"Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa could come back from the dead and run in this race, and they still wouldn't be able to beat Jerry Brown in 2014."

There's no fancy strategy at work dictating the precise moment that Brown jumps into the fray, said Dan Newman, a Brown political adviser. The man, he said, is simply too busy governing.

"There isn't much snow flying in the Sierras yet," said Newman, making a joking reference to Brown's old promise to declare his intentions to run for public office "when the snows fall in the Sierras."

One thing is clear: The secretary of state's filing period for candidates who wish to have their names appear on the June ballot runs from Monday to March 7, so Brown can't keep us waiting too much longer.

The governor is no stranger to criticism about doing things a little late. When Brown ran for president in 1976, he beat Jimmy Carter in half a dozen primaries, but he had entered the race too late to amass the delegates needed to win the Democratic Party's nomination.

Brown also got flak in 2010 for waiting until early March to enter the race for governor against billionaire Republican Meg Whitman, a contest that became the most costly race in California history. The California Republican Party seized on the opportunity to rib him with a "Where's Jerry?" ad campaign.

"We faced pressure from all different corners to get out there early, but we resisted," said Steve Glazer, Brown's longtime friend and former campaign manager, now running for a state Assembly seat in the East Bay. "It doesn't surprise me that he's waiting this time. It's a smart choice to make."

State Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said he's "extremely confident" in Brown's re-election bid and isn't bothered at all about the timing.

"This is typical Jerry," Burton said. "People are always fascinated by him."

For some, Brown's forceful fundraising is a billboard-sized sign of his ambitions. His campaign raised $7 million from July to December and spent less than $200,000. He has $17 million in the bank, while Donnelly and Kashkari have a tiny fraction of that.

Brown received sizable donations from a slew of labor groups and the Hollywood elite, including director Steven Spielberg. However, he also got checks from some of the biggest names in business and on Wall Street, including $27,200 each from Wal-Mart, Exxon, Philip Morris and Bank of America.

"When you see such a wide array of donors from the business community, it shows you that that money won't be there for a challenger," Glazer said. "That's why the Republican fundraising reports are anemic. They're not getting money from anyone but true believers."

Brown's GOP challengers are a tad unorthodox, too.

Donnelly, R-Hesperia, might be best known as a former Minuteman border-security activist, a staunch gun-rights advocate who was convicted of a misdemeanor two years ago after trying to board a plane with a gun in his luggage, and the guy who rises to offer a conservative critique of almost every bill coming through the Legislature.

Donnelly is running a guerrilla-style campaign most notable for its quirky web videos, but the tea party favorite has struggled to raise money. He had about $18,000 in unencumbered cash at the start of the year.

The latest GOP entrant is Neel Kashkari, who is cutting a curious path for a Republican by focusing on the plight of the poor, particularly regarding jobs and education.

The former assistant U.S. treasury secretary and asset manager from Laguna Beach is the sort of moderate Republican who probably never could have won a traditional partisan primary: He's pro-abortion rights, pro-gay marriage and a gun owner who supports universal background checks. But this year is the first time California's new "top two" primary -- in which two candidates advance to the November election, regardless of party affiliation -- will be tested in a governor's race.

With Kashkari, 40, having just entered the race last month with no prior elected offices, it's too early to predict what his endorsements and fundraising will look like. Some political experts think that contributors who had awaited a more moderate and viable candidate might now ante up for him.

On Wednesday, Kashkari's campaign announced that he had raised nearly $1 million in his first two weeks as a candidate, with large contributions from family members, Goldman Sachs bankers and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

The financial resources Kashkari is able to put together in the next two months likely will determine who comes in second place in the June primary, said Bill Whalen, a former aide to Republican Gov. Pete Wilson who is now a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

"If Kashkari can raise sufficient resources, he can run the media campaign and build the coalition he needs to be competitive," Whalen said. "Absent that money, he's at the mercy of swing voters to make up their minds. And I suspect they'll either vote for Jerry Brown, or just stay home."

Jerry Brown
Party: Democratic
Age: 75
Hometown: San Francisco
Residence: Oakland
Family: Married to Anne Gust Brown; no children
Religion: Catholicism
Professional experience: California Supreme Court law clerk; attorney for Los Angeles law firm Tuttle and Taylor
Elected offices: Secretary of state, 1971-75; governor, 1975-83; Oakland mayor, 1999-2007; attorney general, 2007-11; governor, 2011-present. Also ran for president in 1976 and 1980, losing both times to Jimmy Carter. He ran again in 1992, losing to Bill Clinton.
Motto: "Wisdom and prudence is the order of the day."


Neel Kashkari
Party: Republican
Age: 40
Hometown: Stow, Ohio
Residence: Laguna Beach
Family: Divorced; no children
Religion: Hinduism
Professional experience: Vice president, Goldman Sachs, 2002-06; senior adviser to the treasury secretary, 2006-08; assistant U.S. treasury secretary, 2008-09; managing director of global equities, Pacific Investment Management Co., 2009-13
Elected offices: None
Motto: "Jobs and education. That's it!"

Tim Donnelly
Party: Republican
Age: 47
Hometown: Atlanta
Residence: Twin Peaks (San Bernardino County)
Family: Married; five children
Religion: Christianity
Professional experience: Founder of manufacturing consulting company.
Elected offices: Assembly, 2010-present
Motto: "Patriot, not politician."