Dianne Feinstein (D)

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has the Senate post she's long sought, opening the door to candidates for California's top posts to announce their intentions for the 2010 election.

Top Democratic party leaders have chosen Feinstein to head up the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, which likely ensures that her flirtation with a run for California governor in 2010 is over, making way for a host of other Democratic contenders who feared her entrance into the race.

The post will give Feinstein tremendous influence over intelligence agencies where Feinstein can hold sway over vital issues such as wire tapping, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and treatment of detainees.

Feinstein has been a fierce critic of the Bush administration's handling of the country's 16 intelligence agencies. She will be the first woman to lead the committee in its 32 year history.

According to a statement issued by the Senator, her top priority will be to end the practice of coercive interrogations and to allow the Red Cross to have access to all detainees. She also pledged to help President-elect Barack Obama close the controversial detention center within a year.

"I'm honored to be nominated to be chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee," Feinstein said in her statement. "This is a critical task at a critical time in our nation's history. With the United States fighting two wars, and facing multiple threats around the globe, it's essential to the nation that our intelligence agencies gather reliable information and do so in a manner that comports with our laws and national values."

Since a California Field poll in July found that Feinstein would be an odds on favorite to run for governor, the senator openly weighed the challenge with a desire to help the Obama administration shape the future. She is expected to drop her interest in running for governor with this week's chairmanship appointment.

Feinstein's popularity and name-recognition dwarfed most of the crowded field of Democrats openly interested in replacing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will be termed out of office.

The front-runner with Feinstein out of the race is Attorney General Jerry Brown, who served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983, but remains eligible for another term as limits were put in place after he was governor.

Brown's interest in running for governor was tempered by a challenge from Feinstein, according to fellow Democratic insider, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who said he talked to the attorney general at a recent public event. The attorney general, Willie Brown wrote, asked everyone at the event if Feinstein's interest in running was sincere.

"Jerry was singularly focused on Dianne Feinstein," Brown wrote. "Every other line was an inquiry about my assessment or Rose's assessment or any Peter's assessment, or anyone else's assessment about Dianne's candidacy for governor."

Willie Brown wrote that he asked Jerry if was "deadly serious" about running.

"'I am, I am,'" the attorney general responded.

"So I told him: 'Then you should announce. Make it serious,'" Brown wrote.

Feinstein's decision will also likely make way for numerous other challengers to enter the race against Jerry Brown. San Francisco Mayor Newsom - a young protegee of Feinstein and Willie Brown -- has formed an exploratory committee to begin raising money for the race, and Lt. Gov. Garamendi has already announced his intention to run. Several other Democratic stalwarts like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer are all reportedly interested in running, though none have the name recognition of the Bay Area candidates.

Repeated polls showed Brown the favorite among all other candidates, besides Feinstein.

Brown has already raised far more money than re-election campaign would require but can only raise money for attorney general until he formally declares. The money then can be shifted to a gubernatorial campaign. Brown told Legal Newsline in the fall that his fundraising activity looked like a person interested in higher office, while refusing to say whether he would in fact run.

"Stay tuned," Brown said then.

Just as Feinstein's decision makes way for Brown run for governor in 2010, Brown's decision will set in motion several other campaigns to replace him as attorney general.

San Francisco City Attorney Kamala Harris, a friend and political ally of Obama, has said she will run if Brown doesn't. Former state Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla was the first who announced his intention to run if Brown did not seek re-election.

Last week, state Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, told Legal Newsline that he filed paperwork to run and would formally announce once Brown made his decision.

Several others are expected to join the race on the Democratic side before campaign season fully kicks in. On the Republican side of the aisle, only state Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, filed to run in early December.

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