California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., who would like to be "US Senator Brown" come 1983, says he doesn't mind at all when Johnny Carson makes jokes about him on "The Tonight Show" and calls him (good-naturedly, of course) "Governor Moonbeam."
"He makes pretty good jokes," Mr. Brown told a television interviewer recently. "And as long as he jokes about me rather than my opponents, that's fine -- because they remain nonentities."
"Governor Moonbeam" has two declared opponents for the Democratic senatorial nomination in next June's primary. Daniel K. Whitehurst, mayor of Fresno, is not a nonentity; but at this early stage he is considered no threat to take the nomination from Brown. The other candidate is William F. Wirtz Jr. -- a worker for Lyndon LaRouche's 1980 presidential campaign.
A constellation of Republican stars will vie for the right to contest the November 1982 senatorial election against the governor. Although it is very early for meaningful forecasting, an August sample by Mervin Field's California Poll showed three of the GOP candidates besting Brown rather handily in head-to-head matchups: US Reps. Barry M. Goldwater Jr. and Paul N. (Pete) Mccloskey Jr. and San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson.
However, pollster Field, noting that not too much stock can be put in a sampling done 10 months before the primary, says that as of now the governor is "the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination, and no worse than even to beat the Republican candidate."
What appears to give Brown a long-range advantage is the size and diversity of the GOP's field of Senate aspirants. A free-spending and free-swinging campaign is expected between as many as nine candidates, and the nominee who emerges seems likely to be politically bruised.
Messrs. McCloskey, Wilson, and Goldwater span, in that order, a large slice of the Republican ideological horizon from moderate to conservative.
Congressman Mccloskey has finally made the move toward a major national office that his admirers have long hoped for. Mayor Wilson -- who for a while seemed headed for a possible gubernatorial contest against Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles -- has decided to risk what many observers have seen as a promising political future in the GOP primary melee.
Congressman Goldwater, nationally in the shadow of his prominent father and not counted among the outstanding members of the US House of Representatives, nevertheless has strong conservative backing in southern California.
Incumbent Republican Sen. S. I. Hayakawa is generally rated the least popular of the major candidates and least likely to defeat Brown in the general election. But he could wind up being renominated with so many names on the primary ballot.
Besides the top-tier trio of Goldwater, McCloskey, and Wilson, and beleaguered incumbent Hayakawa, there are five declared or possible candidates for the Republican senatorial nomination:
Maureen Reagan, US representatives Robert K. Dornan and John H. Rousselot, state Sen. John Schmitz, and businessman Theodore Bruinsma.
Although not yet officially declared, the President's daughter already is raising funds and testing the response to her probable candidacy in numerous public appearances around the state. Considered basically conservative, but outspokenly at odds with her father on some issues such as the pro-life amendment, the "first daughter" does not have as clear a constituency as some of the other candidates. But she is a longtime, active Republican and a vigorous campaigner. Analysts such as Mervin Field place her just behind the first rank of contenders.
Mr. Reagan removed on possible obstacle to her candidacy recently by explaining that he is not against her seeking the Senate seat (saying that his "I hope not" remark was made in jest).
Congressman Dornan, from the Los Angeles area, has strong financial backing from the party's right wing and is expected to spend a lot of money in his nomination quest.
Congressman Rousselot, once nationally prominent because of his ties, now severed, to the John Birch Society, has not declared himself in the race yet.
The other candidacies are not considered significant at this point.
For his part, Governor Brown is clearly warming to the Senate campaign after his recent brushes with the Mediterranean fruit fly and a (so far) minor scandal over misuse of a state computer by members of his staff. The always highly visible governor seems to be in the spotlight somewhere around the state everyday. He has made some staff changes that seem aimed at strengthening his team for the upcoming task of running hard for senator while still heading the state government.
Displaying the political astuteness that has seldom failed him, Brown maneuvered his toughest likely opponent in the Democratic primary, state assemblyman Leo McCarthy of San Francisco, into running for lieutenant governor next year.
With Mayor Bradley in the governor's race, observers see no "heavyweight" Democrat waiting in the wings to challenge Brown for the senatorial nomination