Chi­ang hits the road to get his name be­fore vot­ers

Gu­ber­na­to­rial hope­ful has the cre­den­tials, an­a­lysts say, but he lacks ri­vals’ vis­i­bil­ity.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Seema Me­hta

As Cal­i­for­nia trea­surer, John Chi­ang is most com­fort­able im­mersed in the state’s fi­nances and rat­tling off num­bers that would sail over av­er­age vot­ers’ heads.

But as he em­barks on a year­long tour of the state for his gu­ber­na­to­rial bid, Chi­ang is try­ing to show off another side: He’s tak­ing jabs at his ri­vals, meet­ing with vot­ers in neigh­bor­hood stores and taque­rias and do­ing any­thing he can to raise his name recog­ni­tion in the state he hopes to lead, but where few vot­ers know who he is. On Fri­day, he will set off on the next leg of his trip with a pest-con­trol con­fer­ence in Ana­heim and a sum­mer sol­stice fes­ti­val in Santa Bar­bara among the stops.

Chi­ang kicked off his tour this month at Mari­achi Plaza in Boyle Heights, and as he put his re­tail pol­i­tics skills to the test, his cere­bral na­ture still showed through.

He vis­ited a lend­ing li­brary, where he mar­veled over a large map and the shop­keeper’s blue-and-brown-framed eye­glasses, mus­ing that they re­minded him of the Earth.

At Al & Bea’s Mex­i­can Food, the founder’s grand­son told Chi­ang that the stand’s sig­na­ture bur­rito cost 18 cents when the eatery opened in 1966. Chi­ang pon­dered whether the cur­rent price, $5.65, had out­paced in­fla­tion. His staff didn’t en­ter­tain his ques­tion.

“They wouldn’t check for me — ‘That’s too John,’ ” he said, laugh­ing. “I like a sense of pro­por­tion.”

Chi­ang has also shown he can throw some punches. At the kick­off event in Boyle Heights, he an­nounced an en­dorse­ment from a long­time ally of gu­ber­na­to­rial ri­val An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa in the for­mer Los Angeles mayor’s birth­place. The next day, he headed to San Fran­cisco, the home­town of another can­di­date in the race, Gavin New­som. Chi­ang took a thinly veiled shot at New­som, telling the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle that he “wasn’t born into a fam­ily with wealth or big con­nec­tions.”

Chi­ang’s great­est hur­dle is lack of name recog­ni­tion. Three out of 4 Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers had no opin­ion of him in a Berke­ley IGS Poll re­leased this month. When vot­ers were asked if they planned to sup­port him in next year’s gu­ber­na­to­rial race, he polled in the sin­gle dig­its.

So Chi­ang will talk to any­one who will lis­ten. On Fri­day, af­ter the pest-con­trol con­fer­ence, Chi­ang will zip around Orange County, hold­ing a higher-ed­u­ca­tion round­table at Fuller­ton Col­lege, tour­ing a lo­cal busi­ness and meet­ing with la­bor lead­ers and a Demo­cratic club. The fol­low­ing day, he’ll have break­fast with Democrats in Santa Bar­bara be­fore at­tend­ing the fes­ti­val there.

With his un­der­stated style and lower-pro­file of­fice, Chi­ang has not been as vis­i­ble as New­som and Vil­laraigosa — both for­mer big-city may­ors with na­tional pro­files — some­thing he read­ily ac­knowl­edges on the stump.

Chi­ang is “the fis­cally re­spon­si­ble pro­gres­sive. It doesn’t cap­ture ev­ery­body’s imag­i­na­tion at the out­set,” he said at a re­cent Los Angeles Cur­rent Af­fairs Fo­rum lun­cheon, when asked about how he would break through in the field. “But as peo­ple start think­ing … we’re get­ting huge re­sponses.”

Some po­lit­i­cal strate­gists say there is a path for Chi­ang — who has raised more than $5 mil­lion for his cam­paign to be Cal­i­for­nia’s first Asian Amer­i­can gov­er­nor — if a num­ber of fac­tors break his way.

Larry Ger­ston, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at San Jose State, said Chi­ang’s ré­sumé — a decade on the state Board of Equal­iza­tion, eight years as state con­troller and state trea­surer since 2015 — could prove com­pelling if the econ­omy dips.

“We know a re­ces­sion hits Cal­i­for­nia harder than the na­tion as a whole. Chi­ang, I think, can lay out the cre­den­tial that, ‘I’m the one that can best man­age this,’ ” Ger­ston said.

Such an ar­gu­ment could also appeal to moder­ate Repub­li­can vot­ers if no GOP can­di­date ad­vances to the gen­eral elec­tion.

“The big chal­lenge is to make it to the top two,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an as­so­ciate dean at the UC River­side School of Public Policy, adding that he thinks Chi­ang needs to start television ad­ver­tis­ing ear­lier than his Demo­cratic ri­vals to raise his name iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, an ex­pen­sive prospect. “The key ques­tion is how he spends his money be­tween now and a year from now.”

Chi­ang has no plans to air TV ads soon. But as he cam­paigns across the state, he has a team of videog­ra­phers doc­u­ment­ing his every move on ex­pen­sive high-def­i­ni­tion cam­eras — footage for Web videos that could be used in television ads. His chal­lenge is clear. Shortly af­ter Chi­ang met with com­mu­nity ac­tivists on the pa­tio of Al & Bea’s Mex­i­can Food, a car pulled up tow­ing a new green-and­white camper for his statewide tour, bear­ing his name, pic­ture and Web ad­dress.

“Is that guy run­ning for gov­er­nor?” a cus­tomer called out, re­ceiv­ing an af­fir­ma­tive an­swer.

Mark Rubal­caba, 45, paused from eat­ing a bur­rito blan­keted in red chile sauce to re­spond, “Never heard of the guy.”

Christina House For The Times

JOHN CHI­ANG, left, vis­its with David Kipen at his Boyle Heights lend­ing li­brary, Li­bros Sch­mi­bros.

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