BRIDGEPORT, CONN. — CAMPAIGN volunteers for presidential candidate Jerry Brown are out in full force knocking on doors, making telephone calls, and encouraging Connecticut residents to cast their votes in this state's primary election today.
The former California governor's unconventional political campaign is suddenly gaining more attention with the withdrawal last week from the presidential race of former United States Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. For the many Tsongas Democrats here in this southern New England state bordering Massachusetts, it now comes down to a choice between either former Gov. Brown or Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D).
"Essentially, it has created a large bloc of undecided voters so there is an opportunity for Brown's 'granola guerrillas' to contact as many people or more as Clinton can through his slick media campaign," says Bill Garrett, Brown's chief Connecticut campaign organizer.
Mr. Garrett says he's seeing more and more volunteers signing on to work for the campaign. Brown's appearance at Bridgeport City Hall last week drew 50 more volunteers, he says.
In this economically depressed Connecticut city, Brown's anti-establishment message attracted an enthusiastic crowd of approximately 300. Unemployment is high, store fronts are empty, and the city's financial stability is in question.
"Millions of Americans are being left behind. And for those who are responsible, it's time for them to go....," said Brown. "Let's get serious here. This whole campaign is a Gong Show of empty TV commercials paid for by Wall Street bankers and lawyers and lobbyists who are responsible for the mess we're in."
This state, like the rest of New England, is struggling amid a severe regional recession. It has been hit with a budget deficit, high unemployment, and the decline of the defense industry, a key employer here.
Brown has vowed not to accept campaign contributions of more than $100 per contributor. His unusual, low-cost campaign may attract some voters here, say political analysts. He raises money through an 800 telephone number and at campaign events, where a basket is passed around to collect small-size contributions. His campaign schedule is often drawn up at the last minute the day before.
Some political observers here suggest that although Brown has only an outside chance of winning the Democratic primary, he may well attract a large number of protest votes.
"What he has the opportunity of doing is defining himself as the anti-Clinton candidate, who can absorb those voters who have doubts, reservations, and are skeptical of Bill Clinton," says William Schneider, visiting professor of political science at Boston College.
Indeed, Brown harped on his differences with Clinton at the Bridgeport speech, ticking off his accomplishments while he served as California governor for two consecutive terms from 1975 to 1982. He touted his record on cutting state taxes and appointing women to high-level positions, and the fact that 2 million jobs were created during his two terms. He also cited his popularity in California when he was re-elected for a second term.
"That's why the people re-elected me with 1.3 million votes - 1.3 million votes is more than half the number of people living in the entire state of Arkansas. That's just my margin of victory," he said. "So you've got to understand here, we're talking about a [Clinton's] relatively modest performance at best in a rather small venue versus the major leagues."
Political observers agree that Tsongas would probably have won the Connecticut Democratic primary had he stayed in the race.
Clinton may benefit from the race if former Tsongas voters decide not to vote and turnout is low. But observers say Brown may well be able to attract this state's large proportion of well-educated, upper middle-class voters who would normally go for Tsongas.
Some voters are suddenly finding Brown an attractive alternative. "He certainly has been visible for the past few days," says G. Donald Ferree, Jr., associate director of the Institute for Social Inquiry at the University of Connecticut.
Others just want to vote for someone besides Clinton. "He's an interesting character and I don't like Clinton and I'm sort of left with nobody to vote for," says Graylord Haas, a University of Bridgeport professor.