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Mayor Gavin Newsom has entered the race for Lieutenant Governor, a job he ridiculed while running for Governor – and his supporters include San Francisco progressives who figure it’s an opportunity to get rid of him.  Nonetheless, an endorsement list that includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Teachers Association and Sacramento’s legislative leaders (along with an opponent with unimpressive fundraising totals) should make Newsom the front-runner for the Democratic primary.  But it won’t be pretty – given that Garry South (who ran his gubernatorial campaign) now works for his competitor, L.A. City Councilmember Janice Hahn.  The Hahn campaign has been vicious on Gavin so far, using the kind of scorched-earth tactics that South is famous for.  Newsom may win the nomination on June 8th, but he could end up suffering the same fate as Garry South’s last victim.  Phil Angelides had much of the Democratic leadership behind him when he ran for Governor, but only won the primary after a bruising fight with South client Steve Westly.  And it left him so bloodied that he went on to lose the general election by a landslide.

As a student of San Francisco politics, I’ve found the local chatter in the past few weeks surrounding Gavin Newsom’s run for Lieutenant Governor to be just plain bizarre.

His allies in the business community are incensed that he’d abandon the city to become Jerry Brown’s bridesmaid – and (God forbid) allow those crazy lefties on the Board of Supervisors to pick the next mayor.  Chuck Nevius’ column in the SF Chronicle last week read like it came from a jilted lover.   “Newsom wasn't supposed to be the average career politician,” he lamented.  “Now he’s Gray Davis.”

Meanwhile, progressive are all too eager to show Gavin the door.  Supervisor Chris Daly, who once suggested at a public meeting that the Mayor was a cokehead, has endorsed him – and I’ve heard from tenant activists who now say that they will walk precincts for Newsom.  How in the world could any politician win statewide office, when your closest friends don’t want you to run – and your rivals are delighted to see you take the plunge?

But believe it or not, Newsom is poised to win the nomination on June 8th.  State Senator Dean Florez dropped out of the race the minute he got in, saying Gavin “commands a formidable lead that would be hard to surmount.”  And the Newsom camp sent out a list of endorsements that includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Assembly Speaker John Perez, State Senate President Darrell Steinberg, the California Nurses Association, the California Teachers Association, the UFCW Western State Council and Dolores Huerta.

The fundraising totals of his sole Democratic rival – Los Angeles Councilmember Janice Hahn – are also worth considering.  As of December 31st, Hahn had only raised $421,000 – and reported a cash-on-hand total of $341,000.  For comparison’s sake, at this stage of the Lieutenant Governor’s race four years ago John Garamendi had raised over $1.37 million – while his Democratic rival Jackie Speier was at approximately $1.28 million.

But Hahn has something Newsom lacks – Garry South, who was the Mayor’s chief strategist until he dropped out of the Governor’s race.  South, who worked for Gray Davis in 1998 and 2002, is the sole Democratic consultant in California to have run a successful campaign for Governor in 25 years - something not to be sneezed at.  And it was viewed as quite a coup when Newsom initially retained him in 2008.

And while Hahn’s fundraising leaves much to be desired, Gavin has the same problem.  The Mayor can transfer his defunct gubernatorial campaign account to the race for Lieutenant Governor, but there isn’t much left of it – only $40,000 as of December 31st.

Granted, Newsom raised over $2 million last year – and can now go back to his donors and ask again.  But while state law lets contributors give up to $25,900 to gubernatorial candidates, the Lieutenant Governor’s race limits donations to $6,500.  A quick look at Newsom’s campaign for Governor shows that over $1 million came from donations exceeding that amount, and half a million from contributors who gave over $20,000.  In other words, he won’t be able to raise $2 million from those people.

And with Garry South now running Hahn’s campaign, the attacks on Newsom have been brutal.  Gavin had disparaged the role of Lieutenant Governor before opting to run, even publicly admitting he had no idea what the job does - a point the Hahn campaign has fully taken advantage of.  But South has gone so far as to betray the confidence of his ex-client – divulging private statements Newsom made when South consulted him, where the Mayor had told him he was no “Gray Davis.”

Of course, we can expect nothing less from Garry South.  Known in California politics as the “King of Mean,” South has a long history of running scorched-earth campaigns – the most recent example being in 2006, when he ran Steve Westly’s campaign for Governor.  

In that race, Westly’s rival – Phil Angelides – had the endorsement of Senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and most of the Democratic Party establishment in the primary.  But in what can only be described as a muder-suicide pact, South waged an intensely negative effort against Angelides – leaving the bloodied front-runner limping past the finish line in June when it was all over.  

South then spent the whole summer and fall denouncing Angelides as a “weak nominee” who could not beat Governor Schwarzenegger, rendering it a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Many Democrats (including myself) will never forgive South for that conduct.

Could the same happen to Newsom if he beats Hahn?  The likely G.O.P. nominee – Abel Maldonado – lacks Arnold’s celebrity status, but has cultivated a moderate image that will make him tough to beat – especially in a year where Democratic turnout could be dangerously low.

Newsom could and should win the primary on June 8th, but his progressive rivals in San Francisco shouldn’t be celebrating a new Mayor just yet.  Gavin will still have to face a Republican in November, and if Garry South has his way he might not win that election.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of BeyondChron, San Francisco's Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.

Originally posted to Paul Hogarth on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 07:48 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Incompetence & poor leadership kicked upstairs (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Paul Hogarth, esquimaux

    Newsom's  really just a pretty face (blank space for argument here...........) but no leader at all. Thats why the lt gov job is right for him---It keeps him in the public eye for a future race but He can't do much harm there

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 08:17:25 AM PDT

    •  The lieutenant governor's office in CA (0+ / 0-)

      is not merely cosmetic.  Under the state constitution, the lt. gov. has equivalent powers to the gov. when the gov. is out of state.

      Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

      by aravir on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 08:19:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Please...'splane to me (0+ / 0-)

        the last time a lt governor accomplished anything noteworthy in CA when even the governor's can't

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 08:22:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The issue is one of "mischief" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          From Wikipedia:

          The Lieutenant Governor of California is elected at the same election, but not jointly as the running mate of the gubernatorial candidate. California has had a governor and a lieutenant governor of different parties 23 of the past 28 years (as of 2006), as has been the case since 2003 with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (Republican) and just recently with the Lieutenant Governorship held by John Garamendi (Democrat) who resigned to become a US Congressman. with Governor Pete Wilson (Republican) and Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis (Democrat), from 1983-1991 with Governor George Deukmejian (Republican) and Lieutenant Governor Leo T. McCarthy (Democrat), and from 1979-1983 with Governor Jerry Brown (Democrat) and Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb (Republican). This occasionally becomes significant, as the California Constitution provides that all the powers of the governor fall to the lieutenant governor whenever the governor is not in the State of California, with the lieutenant governor often signing or vetoing legislation, or making political appointments, whenever the governor leaves the state. The lieutenant governor is also the president of the California State Senate. In practice, there is a gentlemen's agreement for the Lieutenant Governor not to perform more than perfunctory duties while the Governor is away from the state. This agreement was violated when Mike Curb was in office, as he signed several executive orders at odds with the Brown administration when Brown was out of the state. Court rulings have upheld the lieutenant governor's right to perform the duties and assume all of the prerogatives of governor while the governor is out of the state. (note: my italics).

          I frankly believe that Newsom is the kind of publicity hound who might very well cross the "gentleman's line" which tacitly exists in California.

          As to the issue of competence, that is why Brown, in my opinion, will win in a walk.  Namely, that his track record shows that he can govern effectively.  Even his political enemies would have to concede that.  He may be the last, best chance that California has.

          Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

          by aravir on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 08:30:23 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Maybe Newsom can (0+ / 0-)

            commute the sentences of the death row inmates Jerry Brown now apparently favors executing.  And so much the better.

            "This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind[.]" -- Robert F. Kennedy

            by Loge on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 09:19:32 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Which is a bit obsolete now ... (0+ / 0-)

        The Governor routinely leaves the state without bothering to tell the LG, then comes back before the LG can do anything about it ...

    •  NOT SO! (0+ / 0-)

      Please think of the consequences of Newsome running in this race.  Do you think for one second that that foul dragon Meg Whitman would think TWICE about portraying Newsome and Brown as if they just landed from outer space?  "Moonbeam and Gleam" I can just see it now!

      What an utter disgrace!

      The only hope for the Dems in November is for Newsome to slink away entirely.

      At least Janice Hahn, if for no other reason than her gender (and HIGH name recognition in Los Angeles!) would offer considerable balance to the ticket.

      I am forever grateful to Gavin for his prominence in the gay marriage struggle, but not at the expense of putting Whitman in the governor's mansion.  She's got one of her own.

      What separates us, divides us, and diminishes the human spirit.

      by equern on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 09:15:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Tipped and rec'd (0+ / 0-)

    I know this is not a race with direct national impact, but, really, any major race in California is nationally significant.  And, given the constitutional position of the lieutenant governor in California (I can remember some shenanigans by Mike Curb the last time Brown was the governor).

    The question I have is whether Garry South may be committing an unintentional public service here.  Newsom is unlikely to become less ambitious if he wins, and I don't trust him.

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 08:17:44 AM PDT

  •  Let's hope so (0+ / 0-)

    the guy is a well tailored but empty suit.

  •  garry south is a fucking cancer (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    i'm not much of a fan of newsom, but hahn hiring that bastard is a huge mark against her.

    surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

    by wu ming on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 08:43:05 AM PDT

    •  Yeah, but the LAST thing we need... (0+ / 0-)

      Is Newsome on the ticket in November.  Nothing could make the GOP happier...nothing could more ensure that the Dems stay out of the governorship for another term...unless Jerry Brown starts taking to sleeping on the floor again.

      What separates us, divides us, and diminishes the human spirit.

      by equern on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 09:17:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  i am so not afraid of the CAGOP anymore (0+ / 0-)

        the fact of the matter is that CA is all about getting 2/3 of the state leg. seats. with 2/3, you can get rid of 2/3 supermajorities, can raise taxes and pass budgets, and the governor's irrelevant anyways. without 2/3, you can't pass taxes or budgets, so what's the point of a governor.

        newsom isn't a rock star, and he isn't an anchor. he's just another pol, and he won't let the GOP win on his efforts alone. having garry south doing his damndest to suppress dem turnout in the general is certainly not a help, but we're used to him pulling that crap every election or so. why dems employ that backstabbing GOP useful idiot is beyond me.

        surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

        by wu ming on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 09:45:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I am hoping Newsome will sink gently without a (0+ / 0-)

    trace into the LG's office and cause no more distress to the good people of San Francisco.

  •  The last thing Jerry Brown needs... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Is Gavin Newsome on his coat-tails.  Progressives beware...if Newsome is on the ticket, we LOSE in November, as a Brown/Newsome "frick and frack" ticket would be just the thing to turn Californians back into the embrace of the GOP.  

    Gavin Newsome is Meg Whitman's dream come true.

    I would be very interested in learning of anything that Newsome has done beside shine those brilliant teeth outside of becoming Mr. Gay Marriage.

    Now, please, don't get me wrong.  I'm gay, and I DEEPLY appreciate what Gavin did for gay marriage in California (besides giving the sound bite that help defeat it.)

    But, you know, you've got to consider that.  Someone who is SO...I don't know..."unaware"? of the consequences of his words is someone to be wary of.

    I don't know Janice Hahn from squat.  With her last name, I can assume she comes from an esteemed political family of Los Angeles. She can probably bring good "balance" to a Brown ticket...though most Californians give more thought to the price of tomatoes than the Lt. Governorship.  But NOT if Newsome is running.  He's a CELEBRITY HOG, as another of his charming traits (it's just so HARD to hide those gleaming teeth!) would be the possibility he might even eclipse Brown's candidacy.

    So, IMO, Gavin Newsome is the new Phil Angelides.  The one candidate who can throw an otherwise Democratic slam dunk into a GOP victory.

    When I heard the news, I cringed.

    What separates us, divides us, and diminishes the human spirit.

    by equern on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 09:10:47 AM PDT

  •  South sounds like a piece of work alright (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... but I think it's a stretch to suggest that he was a decisive factor Schwarzenegger's win over Angelides. That race was pretty much a no-contest wipe out from start to finish.

    Tipped & rec'd nonetheless, and thanks for an informative diary.

    CA state politics are a disaster, IMHO. The supermajority requirements both to pass the budget and to raise revenues puts an irresponsible "33% + 1" GOP minority, who are unanimously opposed to everything except prisons and tax cuts, in control of Sacramento. Term limits mean that 2/3 of the Assembly and all of the Senate are composed of people who have either just arrived, or are just about to leave. Careers cannot be built in the legislature, coalitions do not last, institutional memory is non-existent, and as soon as legislators are over their learning curve, they are gone. NorCal and SoCal might as well be on different continents, for all they know about or understand each other, or have interests in common.

    Given all that, I frankly don't know why anyone who is not an empty suit would want to be governor. The job is impossible, for anyone who cares.

    •  True, true! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I remember comparisons by the press of Angelides' speeches and other thrilling endeavors, like watching paint dry.

      To me, Angelides' candidacy was a testimony to "hack" politics at its worst.  Yeah, South, can be a demon (if you're standing opposite him), but I'd love to know what the Dems were smoking at the state convention when they decided to put up a competant politician but by no means charismatic candidate up against the Governator.  

      The election was like feeding wood to a saw mill.

      What separates us, divides us, and diminishes the human spirit.

      by equern on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 09:24:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Newsome has a Willie Horton problem (0+ / 0-)

    Newsome was Mayor of SF when Edwin Ramos, an illegal/undocumented immigrant with a violent criminal history associated with gang violence, killed the Bologna family. Whatever you all feel about illegal immigration, rest assured, this issue will appear in every negative ad against Newsome. Newsome better have an answer as to why he didn't have Ramos deported when he first ran afoul of the law.

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