Feinstein buzz overshadows Calif. AG

Legal News Line Aug. 14, 2008, 1:39pm

Dianne Feinstein (D)

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., (Legal Newsline)- The Golden State's most powerful Democrat could push California Attorney General Jerry Brown off the pedestal of popularity as the early favorite to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010.

A recent political poll first reported in a San Francisco Chronicle political column, found that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein would be a favorite by a wide margin over any other Democratic candidate for governor in 2010.

"State Attorney General Jerry Brown leads ... Democrats making noises about running for governor in 2010," wrote Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, "but if Sen. Dianne Feinstein were to jump into the pool, she would swamp them all, a new poll shows."

Without Feinstein in the race, the poll results were similar to those posted previously, namely that Brown, who served two terms as governor in the late 1970s and early 1980s, leads the rest of the field.

Of the 650 voters polled, Brown was the pick for 31 percent, surpassing San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's 19 percent. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi checked in third with 9 percent.

But this poll also factored in Feinstein pitting her in a hypothetical head-to-head brace against Brown. The senator crushed Brown, 50 to 24 percent.

The buzz about the poll ignited a boil under the cauldron of political prognostication for California insiders, who say Feinstein has long desired to return to state politics but has never felt it was the right time.

At 75 years of age, it stands to reason she may view 2010 as her last chance.

"The possibility of a Feinstein run was topic No. 1 at San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's wedding," wrote The Chronicle's Matier & Ross. "... and there was no shortage of scenarios discussed among the A-listers about what might make Feinstein run."

Newsom, whose glitzy Montana wedding to actress Jennifer Siebel in late July was attended by political powerbrokers from around the state, formed his own gubernatorial exploratory committee last month. Brown's own flurry of fundraising in June cemented beliefs that he was preparing his own campaign to return to the governor's mansion.

Feinstein has seen the poll, but dismissed any notion of joining the race until 2009. But that didn't stop her from discussing her interest with Los Angeles Times Columnist George Skelton earlier this week.

She said if she does run she expects a "spirited primary" and that the 90 minute commute to Sacramento would sure top the long coast-to-coast flights back to Washington.

Skelton wrote: "And she went on about California's problems: 'Think back, there's been no major water infrastructure built since Pat Brown was governor. Everything's drying up. . . . California sort of rests on its laurels. . . . You've got to move people, you've got to move goods. . . . I'd love to be the governor who builds the high-speed rail."

She clearly sounds like someone taking the bid very seriously, much to the chagrin of Brown, analysts contend.

Former Mayor Willie Brown wrote in his San Francisco Chronicle column that if Feinstein does jump in, the race is over.

"If Feinstein's in," Willie Brown wrote, "Dem. rivals should bow out." But he also cautions that her inclusion in the race is no forgone conclusion. She would need to know she could win.

"There is no way at this stage of her life that should risk a loss," wrote the former San Francisco mayor.

"I think she'll definitely think long and hard about it," Bill Carrick, the senator's longtime political strategist, told Skelton. "She's extremely interested."

California political commentator Frank Russo said his sources insist Feinstein has no clear plans to run, nor for that matter does the attorney general, despite constant rhetoric asserting Brown is in.

Russo cautioned that anyone predicting a Feinstein blow-out need only think back to last year and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

"All this reminds me," Russo wrote on his California Progress Report Web site, "of just how wrong the conventional wisdom was ... less than a year ago when folks were told it was time to get on the Hillary Clinton bandwagon and that she was surely going to be the Democratic nominee."

Nevertheless, Russo confirms that the latest poll is well respected in Sacramento circles. It is also consistent with a California Field Poll taken in June, which shows the Senator with the highest favorability rating among political powerhouses by a wide margin.

Despite being two years away and a little thing called a presidential election still to come in 2008, the California governor's race continues to simmer.

How it all boils out will likely start with Feinstein and Brown. All others interested in races from the governor's office to the mayor of San Francisco will fall in line behind them.

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