Opinion: With Obama’s election settled, California’s pols jockey for 2010

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And you thought the election races were over for a while?

With the next occupant of the White House settled, jockeying has begun for control of the Sacramento statehouse in this powerful state.

For now, it seems that GOP Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger’s departure in 2011 will end celebrity reign in the state Capitol (barring the unlikely return of Clint Eastwood to politics).

Even without a Hollywood connection, there are some potentially interesting matchups coming voters’ way as they pick a candidate who can lead the most populous (and trend-setting) state and emerge as a figure with national stature as Schwarzenegger has.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, folks close to her say, is strongly considering the race to cap off her career after nearly two decades in Washington.

Popular and well-known at age 75, the one-time mayor prefers the role of an executive to legislator and would be the presumptive front-runner.


But she would have to trade away being the powerful senior senator in California to preside over a gridlocked state.

Her loss wouldn’t cost Democrats their Senate majority, and they could presumably win the seat in a special election. But, wait. That might not be certain.

“If she decides to run,’ says Art Torres, the state Democratic chairman, who is close to Feinstein, ‘I think everybody else is going to take a very hard look at whether they continue to pursue it.”

But many others feel Feinstein, who detests tough campaigns, would bow out if she were to face a primary challenge from ...

... someone such as Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, the eclectic and pugnacious two-term former governor (and mayor) who can run again because he served before term limits were enacted.

Brown, who’s 70 now, believe it or not, has rebuilt his political career starting as Oakland mayor over the last decade, following a years-long unsuccessful pursuit of the presidency.

Brown has been telling people he’s definitely running, but says he will decide officially when the snow falls in the Sierra, adding cutely, “I didn’t say which year.”

At 41, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom would bring a youthful flair to the race. But while Newsom’s full-throated push for gay marriage might help him in a Democratic primary, his rivals would likely argue that it would be a liability in a general election where ads featuring Newsom such as the video down below by Prop. 8 proponents would surely resurface.

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a 63-year-old veteran of Sacramento politics, also plans to run.

Other contenders could include L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; State Treasurer Bill Lockyer; former Controller Steve Westly, who lost the 2006 Democratic primary and co-chaired the Obama campaign in the state; and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.

On the Republican side, conservatives dominate the state party, but the would-be candidates so far are social moderates, including former EBay chief Meg Whitman, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and ex-congressman Tom Campbell.

The 52-year-old Whitman could challenge Feinstein to become the state’s first female governor, in what might be the first time anywhere that two women dueled it out for governor. (If this has happened before, let us know.)

A billionaire who was close to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and mentioned for a while as a possible VP running mate with John McCain, Whitman has hired GOP strategist Steve Schmidt.

Schmidt won with Schwarzenegger and lost with McCain. Or Whitman could decide to challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer, who also is up for re-election in 2010.

Another high-powered female exec, Carly Fiorina, formerly of Hewlett Packard, is also said to be eyeing the races for governor and Senate.

Campbell, now 56, was Schwarzenegger’s finance chief and is also an academic who has taught business and law.

The 51-year-old Poizner, who’s been in office since 2007, made a fortune in Silicon Valley and is also described as a billionaire. He appears ready to use his public and private sector experience to attack opponents such as Whitman, who have never been in government, and those such as Brown, who have never been outside it.

Voters, he says, “want someone who is not a career politician [and] they definitely don’t want a rookie.”

We’ll be following both important races closely here in The Ticket.

-- Michael Rothfeld

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