Garamendi over Brown in 2010?

Legal News Line Jan. 14, 2009, 2:55am

Jerry Brown (D)

John Garamendi (D)

Dianne Feinstein (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)--A new year means a new election in California, where every season is political season.

Political analysts across the state have turned their attention to the 2010 statewide races even though the primaries are still more than 500 days away.

Each of the races for governor, attorney general and lieutenant governor are expected to attract a crowd of candidates - many of whom will formally announce in the coming weeks - and even more speculation about who will run, who won't run and most importantly, who might win.

While all speculation to date has swirled around Attorney General Jerry Brown, at least one political insider says the less flashy Lt. Gov. John Garamendi has the inside track in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Gabriel Sanchez, communications director for President-elect Barack Obama's California campaign, broke with convention in a recent column he wrote for the California Majority Report, when he tabbed Garamendi as the favorite.

For months, every poll with the exception of those considering U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has shown Brown the favorite over a cast of contenders including Garamendi, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Superintendent of Public Schools Jack O'Connell.

But Sanchez looks back at the last 75 years of history and says all past governors had the name recognition that comes from holding a previous statewide office except two: current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Gov. Ronald Reagan, both with cache as Hollywood actors.

"It illustrates one critical factor all these past governors shared before being elected: name ID," Sanchez wrote. "All of this bodes very well for ... Lt. Gov. John Garamendi."

The logic would seem to fall apart, however, with Brown, who not only holds a higher profile statewide office than Garamendi now, but has already been a two-term governor of the state from 1975 to 1983. But Sanchez said that could work against the attorney general.

"Lest you think I forgot," Sanchez wrote, "Attorney General Jerry Brown should benefit from this historic scenario as well. Many friends have told me Browns don't lose primaries. Indeed. But California voters haven't approved a third term for a Governor Brown either. So, let's call it a wash."

Brown's father, Pat, served two terms as governor in1959-1967, before being succeeded by Ronald Reagan. California now limits its governors to two terms, making Schwarzenegger ineligible for re-election. Jerry Brown's two terms came before term limits, allowing him to run for the office again.

Sanchez is not entirely alone on an island with his prediction.

Steven Hill, a political writer and political director at a Bay Area think tank said Garamendi could get an unexpected push from a popular politician.

"If President-elect Obama's popularity in California is still high next year, as I would suspect it will be," Hill said, "he could changes things in a hurry if he came down on the side of someone over another in the primary."

Among those considering a run for governor, only Garamendi came out early in support of Obama during the 2008 Democratic primaries. Newsom and Villaraigosa were supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Brown kept a decidedly low-profile during the election.

Though Garamendi lacks the star power of Brown, he has been a fixture on the California political scene for three decades. Prior to becoming lieutenant governor in 2007, Garamendi first won a seat in the state Assembly in 1974. He moved to the state Senate in 1976 and first ran for governor in 1982, where he was defeated in the primary by then Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

In 1990, he won his first statewide office when he became California's first insurance commissioner. He ran again for governor in 1994, before again losing the primary.

Then-President Bill Clinton appointed Garamendi to serve as deputy secretary of the interior later than year. He won a second term as insurance commissioner in 2002 before winning his current post in 2006.

The lengthy history has helped him build a lot of name needed name recognition for his third shot at the state's top office.

Sanchez thinks the same logic of name recognition also makes Republican Steve Poizner -- the state's insurance commissioner and a billionaire -- who has announced his plan to run for governor in 2010, the favorite for the GOP.

"The best way to win statewide in California?" Sanchez wrote. "Win statewide in California."

Political expert Tony Quinn said name recognition is always critical in California, as the state is just too big to build a base against other well-known candidates.

"In order to get elected you need to hold statewide office. The state is so huge, and running in Southern California and all those cities down there, if you are just a mayor, either in San Francisco, or even in Los Angeles, you have a small base."

But Quinn believes Brown remains far ahead of the pack if Feinstein doesn't get in the race.

"Jerry Brown is light years ahead of everybody else," Quinn said, "He won handily in 2006, and there is something about him that people like. He's sort of eclectic."

Though Brown has not officially announced his intention to run, Willie Brown, former San Francisco mayor and speaker of the state assembly, wrote in a recent column that Brown's candidacy is "a sure thing."

"Jerry Brown is running for governor," Willie Brown wrote, "regardless of whether Feinstein is in the race. He's already too far down the tracks to turn back."

Feinstein has openly expressed interest in running, but was named as the head of the Senate's intelligence committee, causing many to believe she won't throw her hat in the ring for governor.

"The main challenge for Brown in the coming year will be how to send the message to Feinstein that he isn't budging, but to do it in a way that doesn't offend her," Willie Brown wrote. "Because even if he succeeds in keeping her out of the Democratic primary, he's going to need her support to get elected."

Willie Brown said Newsom is probably going to be squeezed out of the governor's race. Sanchez doesn't mention him as a viable candidate despite his formation of an exploratory committee. But Sanchez does offer advice for those like Newsom who haven't held statewide office.

"They should start running earlier than they think and start boosting their public profile," he said.

Willie Brown offered the San Francisco mayor advice of his own.

"Our good mayor might want to start thinking about running for lieutenant governor - although even that might be a tough challenge," he wrote.

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