'Never say never:' Don't count out Feinstein just yet

Legal News Line Feb. 5, 2009, 11:12am

Dianne Feinstein (D)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein may have been the one taking the heat on MSNBC's "Hardball" on Tuesday, but she used the opportunity to throw a little chin music to her fellow California Democrats.

While most political insiders have all but ruled out the senator returning to her home state to run for governor in 2010, Feinstein cautioned that any such decision may be premature.

Hardball host Chris Mathews asked her if she was thinking about running, to which she responded that she "never says never," a quote that surely reverberated all the way back to the Golden State, where the likes of California Attorney General Jerry Brown, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi are about to launch their campaigns.

Bolstered by a July poll that showed Feinstein would enjoy a significant early lead among all other candidates in both voter recognition and favorability, the senator openly discussed her interest in finishing her career as California's governor.

But, after Feinstein was named chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, political insiders believed her summer flirtation was a thing of the past.

But Feinstein, who has continued to remain apart from the pack, knows she can jump in later than the others and still be huge favorite.

She told Matthews she remains interested in the governor's race.

"I take my new duty as chairman of the committee seriously," she said during the eight-minute interview. "I want to see how it goes. You know, I'm one of those people that never says never. That's just about the situation. It would be hard for me to do, no question, because I've got a 16-year commitment here.

"On the other hand, I am really concerned about the state. You know, we're now furloughing employees. We stopped all capital improvement projects. The state has a $42 billion deficit. There's a structure deficit now built in. And I think whoever runs for the post of governor had better do so with a plan so that, if elected, that plan becomes their mandate to carry out."

Brown, who leads both Garamendi and Newsom in fundraising and cash on hand so far, has led in all polls that don't include Feinstein in the mix. Late last year it was reported that Brown had been seeking out information from political insiders about what Feinstein was going to do.

Feinstein, 75, and Brown, 70, have known each other and worked together most of their political careers.

Feinstein was San Francisco's mayor when Jerry Brown was governor. Her first political appointment came from Brown's father, then Gov. Pat Brown. Feinstein also officiated Brown's 2004 wedding to Anne Gust. She is also a mentor to Newsom, who would have a tough time opposing her should she decide to run.

Brown, Newsom and Garamendi all made very visible public appearances during the inauguration of President Barack Obama, seeking to gain support among powerful Democrats. Each announced fundraising accomplishments in recent weeks.

The attorney general, who still has not yet formally announced his intention to run for a third term as governor, announced last week that he had raised $3.4 million in 2008, far ahead of the roughly $1.1 million raised by Newsom and Garamendi.

Brown has more than $4 million cash on hand, far ahead of other contenders. He has made several public comments of late saying that he would make a good candidate for governor because he's done it before. Brown served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983.

Garamendi, the only candidate to formally announce his campaign so far, said that during the inaugural week he had put in place a national fundraising team to bolster his campaign. Newsom, who has formed an exploratory committee, was the focus of a Newsweek profile recently.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Westley, whose personal fortune could finance his campaign should he decide to run, has not yet made any public comments about his intention, though he spent $35 million of his own money in a failed attempt to run for governor in 2006.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villariagosa is also widely rumored to be considering a run for governor, though he must first win re-election in 2009 before he intends to announce a desire to move up the political ladder.

Feinstein told Mathews she's in no hurry to make her final decision, which is surely causing ripples throughout the Democratic Party. Each of the three top Democratic candidates for the attorney general's post in 2010 have said they would not run if Brown seeks re-election rather than run for governor. But at this point is seems safe to say that the only way Brown may not run for governor is if Feinstein jumps into the race.

That said, the longer Feinstein takes in many any official decision, the more likely other candidates will make formal announcements of their own, potentially setting up an intense, battle among previously close political allies.

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