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S.F. Mayor Newsom Explores Run for Governor

July 2, 2008

By Kevin Yamamura and Shane Goldmacher, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Jul. 2–San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat best known for his aggressive support of same-sex marriage, launched an exploratory committee Tuesday to consider a 2010 run for governor.

Newsom, 40, is the first Democrat to make a formal move toward replacing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“He’s taking the steps to put together the type of operation that can analyze the race in 2010 and make an informed decision,” said Newsom consultant Eric Jaye.

Newsom is seeking to jump ahead of what many expect will be a crowded Democratic field in 2010. He can use the committee to solicit donations in $24,100 increments, establishing a war chest 23 months before the Democratic primary for governor.

He is known statewide — and nationally — for his 2004 decision to allow the city of San Francisco to perform gay marriage. The California Supreme Court in May overturned a state law banning same-sex marriage, while voters will decide on a constitutional amendment on the subject in November.

As mayor, Newsom also pursued universal health care for 82,000 uninsured San Francisco residents and sought to change the way the city delivers homeless services.

“He’s pretty hot,” said longtime Democratic consultant Bill Carrick. “Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the time, this gay marriage thing has really given him a big profile and a support base across the state.”

Carrick said he expects at least six Democratic candidates in the 2010 race: Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Attorney General Jerry Brown, former state Controller Steve Westly and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.

Brown has all but said that he will jump into the race, and his name recognition makes him a formidable contender. He reported raising more than $200,000 in June in his re-election account. He recently renamed the account from “Jerry Brown for Attorney General” to “Jerry Brown 2010.”

“I don’t do too much these days except sue people,” he said in a March speech at the state Democratic convention. “But someday maybe I’ll get around to doing more than that, and hopefully you’ll help.”

Carrick said Brown is running.

“He’s out there,” Carrick said. “He’s making it clear that he’s going to do it. He definitely has the best brand name in California politics.”

Carrick, who helped U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein move from San Francisco politics to statewide office, noted that San Francisco mayors have a stronger statewide support base among Democrats than Los Angeles mayors. The city is generally viewed positively by the entire region, he said, while Los Angeles is viewed negatively by others in Southern California.

Newsom — who was resoundingly re-elected in 2007 with only token opposition — has not sailed through his tenure as San Francisco mayor.

Early in 2007, he confessed to having an affair with the wife of his deputy chief of staff. A week later, Newsom admitted a drinking problem and sought treatment, while maintaining his duties as mayor.

Villaraigosa acknowledged an affair with a Spanish-language television newscaster a year ago that led to the breakup with his wife of 20 years.

Carrick said he expects the sex scandals in which Newsom and Villaraigosa were embroiled “will not be a factor in either one’s gubernatorial plans” because voters will have forgotten by then.

On the Republican side, first-term Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is widely expected to run. Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO and adviser to Sen. John McCain, is also considering a run.

In a statement, Jaye noted Newsom’s work on universal health care but did not refer to his landmark efforts on gay marriage. The marriage issue helped define Newsom’s tenure as mayor, but its political usefulness statewide remains a question mark.

“It is not going to be easy for a liberal mayor of San Francisco to create statewide appeal,” said Adam Mendelsohn, a Republican political consultant and former Schwarzenegger aide. “His politics now are very much in line with the city of San Francisco. Those are politics not shared by anywhere near the majority of a general election constituency.”

Newsom’s timing — opening an account on July 1 — means he will not have to reveal how much money he has raised until early 2009.

Any serious candidate will need to raise millions of dollars before 2010 to be competitive, and at least one potential Democratic rival, Westly, can finance his entire campaign with his personal fortune.

Carrick said Newsom was smart to get started now. “I think the (campaign contribution) limits are pretty tough for a gubernatorial race,” he said. “You have to get out there and scramble and look for money.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

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