Jerry Brown (Almost) Makes It Clear He's Not Interested in Running for President

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Gov. Jerry Brown, seen here in a 2014 KQED interview, dismissed new questions about whether he would consider another presidential run. (Monica Lam/KQED)

There are probably only two things you really need to know about the notion of Gov. Jerry Brown -- a man afflicted three times with nasty bouts of what's called "Potomac Fever" -- running for president in 2016.

First, that it's a great political parlor game; and second, that it's the kind of game he must love by always leaving the door ever so slightly open.

Brown did a reasonably good job of throwing cold water on the idea on Friday during the first of two days in Washington, D.C. The governor met with federal officials at the White House to talk about President Obama's hotly debated executive order on immigration. On Saturday, he will attend the annual white-tie-and-tails Gridiron Club dinner as a guest of the Washington Post.

And so perhaps fittingly, it was the newspaper's Friday morning story that got the ball rolling on whether he'd consider a 2016 presidential run -- 40 years after his first attempt, followed by failed effort No. 2  in 1980 and No. 3 in 1992.

Brown's message in the story: Hillary Clinton doesn't need a primary challenger. He repeated the assertion on Friday afternoon in a quick Q&A with the White House press corps.

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"I can't think of anything I'd rather have less, if I were running for president, than a competitor in the primary," scoffed the governor. "The primaries get into all the nuance, and small differences, of candidates from the same party."

What Hillary Rodham Clinton really needs, said Brown, is to be focused "on drawing the distinctions" with Republicans.

Isn't that the final word? Probably. The governor told the Post that a presidential campaign doesn't look like "a fruitful use of my time."

But parlor game enthusiasts love how the 76-year-old Brown always seems to avoid an actual "No" to the big question. And with so many questions being raised this week about the all-or-nothing hopes that Democrats have when it comes to Clinton, the political California Dream often creeps back in.

Tony Quinn, a longtime GOP political analyst in California, put it this way in a column on Thursday:

Too old, you say. Well, Winston Churchill returned as British Prime Minister in 1951, at the age of 77, a post he held until he was 81. His contemporary, Konrad Adenauer, became German chancellor at the age of 73 and served until he was 87; and in 1953, grandfatherly war hero Dwight Eisenhower became the American president. That looks like a golden age of great world leaders.

The consensus in and around Sacramento is that Brown actually likes being governor now, something that wasn't necessarily the case in his first go-round. Journalist Orville Schell, a longtime friend of the governor, said in an interview in January that the Democrat has finally realized that California is a heck of a good perch from which to rule.

"The national stage has gotten so corrupted," said Schell, "he's less interested in playing there."

No doubt that's true. But as he makes the rounds in the nation's capital this weekend, some may remember the words of the enigmatic Californian reported by the Associated Press on Nov. 8, 1979, when asked why he'd possibly throw his hat in the ring again:

"I think the people are ready if the right leadership wakes them up."