The last farmer who would be governor of California. That's the moniker Bill Jones of Fresno hangs on himself as he campaigns for California Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Jones is a fifth generation farmer. A native Californian who has been preparing to lead the nation's most populous state for 20 years of public life and years before that as a successful businessman.

There is no one more qualified to govern California than Jones, California's current secretary of state. Yet his campaign is struggling getting through the primary against the former mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Rirodan, a 71-year old millionaire who has donated $78,000 to the Democratic governor whom he wants to unseat. (If that does not cause Republicans anguish, what will?) The third primary candidate is Bill Simon Jr., another wealthy Californian who thinks he can buy the governorship.

Jones has been stumping with one message. He is the only man in the primary who can defeat Democrat Gray Davis in the general election, and he needs only 500,000 votes to win the primary. But he must get money to campaign for those votes, and his campaign is faltering financially.

“We have 500,000 votes from the Oregon border to the Tehachapi's,” he told a United Agribusiness League luncheon in Visalia, Calif., recently. “We need 1 million votes to win the primary. We are only 500,000 votes short.”

If he can win the primary, the money will come as the Republican nominee to challenge Davis' $30 million war chest. California's energy crisis and the scandals that have accompanied it make Davis politically vulnerable.

Jones' campaign is struggling because he is not flashy like Hollywood Rirodan. He is a solid campaigner, but he refuses to be anything but honest and straightforward. He does not dance around issues with rhetoric.

When people talk about Jones, words like ethical, honest, tireless, effective and trustworthy are used with conviction.

His accomplishments are plentiful in the state assembly and as secretary of state. He has been successful largely without fanfare and more importantly without controversy or scandals.

A perfect example of Jones' strong abilities is last fall's general election in the nation's largest state. It was a non news event because it went off without so much as a bobble while voting snafus were cropping up in many other states. It took great leadership from Jones to pull that off.

Jones is looking to his fellow farmers for the financial support to win the primarily, but he also quickly recognizes the serious economic plight of agriculture. He's almost apologetic.

However, Bill Goodrich, president and CEO of the United Agribusiness League is not timid. Goodrich chides Jones for not pushing harder for money. Goodrich is not ashamed to tell people to get out their checkbooks. When they do, they can be assured that they'll be helping the last farmer ever to be elected governor of California.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com