Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson said Thursday he is “agonizing” over whether to run for governor of California in 1990 and expects to make up his mind soon.
GOP state Chairman Robert Naylor said Wilson is so wrapped up in the subject that he is “playing out scenarios of possible opponents.”
The 55-year-old senator said in a telephone interview from his Washington office that he is “agonizing and counseling with a number of people about it.”
Gov. George Deukmejian announced two weeks ago he will not seek a third term, sending Republicans in search of a big-name candidate to go up against what is expected to be a potent Democratic campaign.
Wilson is the first choice of Republican leaders for the job, Naylor said, but if Wilson declines, new pressures will build on Commissioner of Baseball Peter Ueberroth to seek the GOP nomination.
In an interview with The Times, Ueberroth said, “It’s possible” when asked if he would consider running for governor. But he insisted that he has not given it serious consideration and would not decide whether to actively explore it until he steps down from the baseball job on March 31.
Ueberroth also made it clear that Wilson was first in line, saying: “He’s doing a great job. I did a fund-raiser for him.”
Wilson was reelected last November to a second six-year term and was looking forward to increased influence among Republicans in the Senate. But he has long been interested in being governor.
Although he gave no hint as to which way he is leaning, Wilson said the pressure to run has been enormous because Deukmejian’s decision to retire presents a serious problem for California Republicans.
“A lot of people have been urging me to run for governor and I cannot ignore those pressures even though I already have a job I dearly love,” Wilson said.
The Republicans badly want to hold the governor’s office when new political districts are drawn in the state after the 1990 census. Resigned to the likelihood that the Legislature will remain in Democratic control and will draw up reapportionment plans highly favorable to Democrats, GOP leaders regard a Republican governor’s veto as their best hope for protecting their party’s interests.
The Democrats already have at least three potentially strong candidates contemplating a run for governor in 1990: Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, Controller Gray Davis and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.
Three Republicans, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and state Sens. William Campbell and John Seymour, have all expressed interest in the governorship. But some Republican businessmen have said privately that they hope for a bigger name, such as Wilson or Ueberroth, to take on the Democrats.
Wilson whipped Democratic Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy last November by 8 percentage points to win a second term, and he noted Thursday that he is now the fourth-ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, whose work he enjoys.
“I have one of the greatest jobs you could want,” Wilson said.
But he is clearly tantalized by the prospect of being governor.
“The governor of California is the chief executive of the sixth-largest economy in the world and a state that is a nation unto itself,” Wilson said.
A California governor is also automatically on the short list of presidential and vice presidential candidates because of the state’s huge number of primary delegates and electoral votes.
Wilson said he would have two advantages if he decides to seek the governorship.
“It’s probably easier for me to get a campaign up and going because I just came off of one. I’m still in training.”
He also said he was accustomed to raising money with limits of $1,000 per donor, a federal rule for more than a decade.
That is now the limit in California races as well because of Proposition 73, passed last June by the voters and effective this month.
Since there previously were no limits on the size of contributions in state races, the change is expected to be a jolt to politicians used to the old rules.
Although he refused to set a timetable for his decision, Wilson said Thursday he feels obligated to declare his intentions soon so that other potential candidates can make their plans.
Proposition 73 is a factor in that as well, because it requires candidates for statewide office to raise money by fiscal year. Since the current fiscal year ends June 30, any 1990 gubernatorial candidate will have less than six months to get the contributions for this period.