Californians glance at the 2010 election

Times Staff Writer

At a breakfast gathering of California delegates Thursday, two big-city mayors spoke back-to-back, a potential preview of coming attractions.

Using his city as a model, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom challenged the gathering to return California to a position of prominence.

“Things aren’t going as well as they should,” he said. “We’re not stepping up and solving the problems like we should. . . . We’re good at finger-pointing and we’re good at talking about the way the world should be, but we’re falling short on delivering those ideals.”


Next up, his Los Angeles counterpart, Antonio Villaraigosa, asked the group to rally behind the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama -- whom Villaraigosa himself turned to only when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped out.

“Get motivated, get excited, get inspired, and tomorrow we get to work to get him elected,” the mayor said.

Most of the focus at any political convention is, understandably, on the presidential nominee and his newly minted running mate. But conventions are, for the political class, the premier place to meet and greet, a captive bounty of donors and volunteers and activists and interest group members, all there for the convincing. And many of those eyeing the next race for governor of California took full advantage.

Newsom and Villaraigosa both spoke to California delegates Thursday, as had Lt. Gov. John Garamendi on Monday. Newsom, also a former Clinton backer, hosted a convention concert at the aptly named Manifest Hope Art Gallery. Villaraigosa sat behind former President Clinton during his wife’s Tuesday night address to the convention. Garamendi worked to expand a list of donors who would agree to raise $100,000 each for his campaign, and said Thursday that he had won several commitments.

The intent was not lost on the audience in Denver.

“That’s a stump speech,” delegate Steven Bradford, a Gardena city councilman, said at the end of Newsom’s remarks Thursday. “He’s running for office.”

While the race for governor is still a ways off -- the election is November 2010 -- competition has already been furious among both major parties.

Newsom launched an exploratory bid on July 1. Garamendi launched his third gubernatorial effort later that month. Villaraigosa is putting off any official decision until after his reelection campaign next year. Other potential Democratic candidates include Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who served as governor from 1975 to 1983, and former state Controller Steve Westly, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 2006.

The biggest name in the field, potentially, is U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who lost a bid for governor in 1990 and has long signaled her interest in the state’s executive position. In a recent interview, she said that she would make a decision after New Year’s in 2010 -- uncomfortably late for the other candidates.

Most political observers expect that if Feinstein were to run, she would be the overwhelming favorite, since she is the best known and has been popular in the state since her 1992 election to the Senate.

“If she decides to enter the race, it’s cleared,” California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said. Feinstein broke her ankle just before the convention and was advised by her doctors not to attend.

The race is wide open on both sides because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took office in a recall election in 2003, is barred by term limits from seeking reelection. That means no incumbent will be on the ballot for the first time since 1998.

Republicans considering a run include Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell, a former Silicon Valley congressman who ran unsuccessfully for Feinstein’s seat in 2000. Two others who have never sought public office -- former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina -- are also being mentioned by California political operatives.

For the potential candidates, the convention served not only to allow them to hone their message, but also to check out the competition.

During Villaraigosa’s and Newsom’s speeches Thursday, Garamendi sat at a table, watching.

A wrestler in college, he said he would study their actions, “learn their weaknesses and their strengths.”

“I’m going to watch them, and I’ll know what to do to win,” he said.

Considering the potential list of candidates, Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters union, said the Democrats are fortunate, to a point.

“The blessing is that there is a strong field of candidates,” he said, “and the curse is that we have a strong field of candidates.”