Lucky California gets all the breaks. It has the president of the United States and Ed Meese. It has the Dodgers and Fernando Valenzuela. It has more Medflies and more congressmen than any other state. As if that were not enough, it has shaping up what may well be the two most intriguing political races of 1982 in its Senate and gubernatorial contests.
The Senate seat belongs to everyone's favorite semanticist, Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R). He is acting like a candidate for re-election at age 75. But he lags in all the polls. So there is a widespread suspicion that one day soon the Republican moneybags will either prevail on their friend, President Reagan, to arrange a nice appointment for Hayakawa or, if necessary, pressure him out of the race.
For the aspirant on the other side is two-term Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (D), who has been a pain for the businessmen to put up with in Sacramento and would not add to their gaiety if he joined Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) in an all-Democratic Senate delegation.
Brown is suffering a post-Medfly depression in the polls but is still well out in front of two possible challengers for the nomination, former assembly speaker Leo McCarthy of San Francisco and the young mayor of Fresno, Dan Whitehurst.
Hayakawa's evident weakness has drawn three younger Republican challengers, any one of whom, the current polls say, could defeat the Medfly-bitten Brown. From right to left (the proper order for Republicans) they are Rep. Barry M. Goldwater Jr. of Los Angeles, San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, and Rep. Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey Jr. of Portola Valley.
Goldwater has been the favorite in the race. The notion of creating a father-son team of Sens. Goldwater has obvious appeal to a conservative Republican electorate, but young Goldwater has not overcome the skepticism of some of the money men who worry whether he is nimble enough to handle the artful dodger, Brown.
Goldwater's possible vulnerability lured Wilson last week from the governor's race (which he tried unsuccessfully in 1978) to the Senate contest. He has been a highly capable, creative mayor in San Diego. But he suffers from his moderateness, and from a peculiar conceit on the part of other Californians that civilization stops just south of Disneyland and that anyone who claims to be from San Diego is probably a spaceman.
McCloskey is (dare one say it?) a progressive Republican--and a cocky ex- Marine to boot. Not only was he conspicuously slow to recognize the potential virtues of a Reagan presidency, he was far too early in his repudiation of that other California president, Richard Nixon--campaigning quixotically against his renomination in 1972 when that was distinctly unfashionable. Even though McCloskey runs further ahead of Brown than any other Republican, his nomination is viewed as a long shot.
Maureen Reagan, the president's daughter, is also sort of in the Senate race, but her candidacy has drawn little enthusiasm, especially in the White House. Matching Goldwater, Wilson or McCloskey against Brown would be a terrific contest. But however appealing, the Senate race is almost certain to be overshadowed by the gubernatorial battle.
The Republican nomination contest pits Lt. Gov. Mike Curb against Attorney General George Deukmejian. Curb was a highly successful Hollywood musician and record producer who has performed the essentially redundant office of lieutenant governor with a naivet,e that few of his predecessors ever achieved. He is to the lieutenant governorship what Alexander P. Throttlebottom was to the vice presidency.
For months, it looked as if the Republicans would reward both Curb and the Peter Principle by making him their gubernatorial nominee. But, of late, his margin over Deukmejian, a former assemblyman and skilled politician, has been diminishing. Last week, Curb went shopping for a new campaign manager, a signal he knows he is in a real race.
But the almost-certain Democratic nominee, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, is far enough ahead of either Curb or Deukmajian in the early polls to be considered the favorite to succeed Brown. Bradley has never run a statewide race, and California has never elected a black to higher officer than lieutenant governor.
But the one-time Los Angeles cop has a presence and force of character that have made him unbeatable in this city. The symbolism minorities and liberals find in his candidacy is matched by the assurance conservatives feel in the way he has handled the relatively few powers he enjoys under Los Angeles' weak-mayor system.
The notion that Reagan's home state could become the first since Reconstruction with a black governor is mind-boggling. But California, of course, is used to having everything.