The California gubernatorial election, 1966 was held on November 8, 1966. The election was a contest between incumbent GovernorPat Brown, the Democratic candidate, and actor Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate. Reagan mobilized conservative voters and defeated Brown.
Incumbent Edmund G. (Pat) Brown had been a relatively popular Democrat in what was, at the time, a Republican leaning state. After his re-election victory over former Vice PresidentRichard Nixon in 1962, Brown was strongly considered for Lyndon Johnson's 1964 ticket, a spot that eventually went to Hubert Humphrey. However, Brown's popularity began to sag amidst the civil disorders of the Watts riots and the early anti-Vietnam War demonstrations at U.C. Berkeley. His decision to seek a 3rd term as governor (after promising earlier that he would not do so) also hurt his popularity. His diminishing support was evidenced by a tough battle in the Democratic primary – normally not a concern for an incumbent. Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty received 38% of the primary vote while Brown barely received 52%, a very low number for an incumbent in a primary election.
The Republicans seized upon Brown's sudden unpopularity by nominating a well known and charismatic political outsider – actor Ronald Reagan. With Richard Nixon working tirelessly behind the scenes and Reagan trumpeting his law and order campaign message, Reagan received almost 2/3 of the primary vote over George Christopher, the moderate Republican former mayor of San Francisco, and went into the general election with a great deal of momentum. At first Brown ran a low key campaign, declaring that running the state was his biggest priority. As Reagan's lead in the polls increased, however, Brown began to panic and made a gaffe when he told a group of school children that an actor, John Wilkes Booth, had killed Abraham Lincoln. The comparison of Reagan to Booth did not go over well and led to a further decline of the Brown campaign. Come election day, Reagan was ahead in the polls and favored to win a relatively close election. However, Reagan won decisively; his nearly 1 million vote plurality surprised even his strongest supporters. Brown won in only three counties: Alameda, Plumas, and San Francisco. He narrowly won Alameda by about 2,000 votes (.5%) and Plumas by about 100 votes (1.6%).