SACRAMENTO—Never mind that nine of 10 Californians have not heard of him. Never mind that his opponent enjoys blanket name recognition throughout the Golden State, more campaign cash and a double-digit lead in the polls.
Chuck Poochigian -- state senator from Fresno, a conservative Republican with a tough record on crime and punishment -- has a blueprint for beating Jerry Brown in the race for California attorney general.
Poochigian plans to cite Brown's progressive past as well as his iconoclastic pronouncements during a 1990s stint on talk radio. He wants to spotlight Brown's record as mayor in crime-rattled Oakland. He will rail against Brown's personal distaste for the death penalty. He hopes to reap campaign dollars from corporations fearful that Brown would push a litigious, anti-business agenda.
"For me, the greatest challenge will be to overcome his high name identification," said Poochigian, 57. "His greatest challenge is to overcome his record. I can move my name ID up. He can't change his record."
So far, Brown is enjoying a splendid campaign season. Though Poochigian got a free ride in the June 6 primary, running unopposed, Brown crushed Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, 63% to 37%, to earn the Democratic nomination.
Brown, 68, did it by portraying himself as a hard-knuckle, big-city crime fighter -- not the long-gone governor who jousted in the 1970s with the Medfly, put death penalty antagonist Rose Bird on the state Supreme Court, renounced the gubernatorial mansion for a floor mattress, dated singer Linda Ronstadt and acquired the nickname of Gov. Moonbeam.
"If they want to run this campaign by going back to 1974, they're welcome to," said Ace Smith, Brown's political strategist. "But I think their strategy is about 20 years stale."
Though one recent poll put Poochigian down by 25 percentage points in a head-to-head contest with Brown, the Republican's campaign team remains confident that the race will become a tossup by election day.
Poochigian is counting on unified support among the GOP, which embraced the popular Fresno Republican early on. Though an unabashed conservative, he also hopes to win big among California's growing pack of independent voters, now more than 18% of the electorate.
Plus, "Poochigian is the anti-Jerry Brown," said Kevin Spillane, a strategist for the GOP candidate.
Brown was born into the closest thing California has to political royalty, the son of a popular governor, Pat Brown, who served through most of the 1960s. Poochigian was raised on the farm, by parents who never went to college.
He is a native of Lone Star, a no-pretense speck of a place along the railroad tracks southeast of Fresno. His grandparents fled the Armenian genocide, and the family eventually settled amid the grape fields of Fresno County.
His mother still lives on the family's original 20-acre plot. Poochigian's father died two years ago at 90. One brother manages a farm. Poochigian owns farmland around Fresno County, and sent his three children to the same public schools he attended.
Unlike Brown, who seemed fated for elected office, Poochigian came to politics relatively late in life.
At Fresno State he was a buddy of Bill Jones, a budding campus politician who in the 1990s was elected California secretary of state. Poochigian later attended law school and became a business lawyer. He got the political bug in 1978, volunteering for George Deukmejian's successful run for attorney general. Poochigian later was appointed as a gubernatorial aide to the conservative Deukmejian and Gov. Pete Wilson.
Brown won statewide office at 32, becoming secretary of state, and launched the first of three presidential runs before he was 40. Poochigian didn't run for anything until his mid-40s.
He won an Assembly seat in 1994 and moved to the Senate in 1998, earning plaudits as a collegial straight-shooter, a law-and-order conservative capable of the occasional bipartisan compromise.
During his tenure, he has backed tougher penalties for sexual predators, gun-toting felons and identity thieves. He also has opposed legislative efforts to roll back the state's "three strikes" law.