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CA-GOV: The Next Big Thing

In 49 days, when (and if) the historic contest between John McCain and Barack Obama ends, political junkies -- including The Fix -- will start craving their next, well, fix.

Our recommendation? Look west to the open seat race for the next governor of California -- a massively influential post that will help shape the direction of the country economically and culturally almost as much as the identity of the next resident of the White House.

The political jockeying to replace term limited Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is well under way; the latest development came Monday when Insurance Commissioner Steve "The Poiz" Poizner (R) announced the formation of a gubernatorial exploratory committee that will allow him to raise money and travel the state in advance of a near-certain candidacy.

Everything is bigger in California (sorry Texas!), most notably the amount of money required to run statewide and win in a state that has 12 media markets and a starting price tag -- for the primary -- of $20 million (at a minimum).

Given the prohibitive cost of campaigning in California, only two things matter when handicapping the field: money and name recognition. If you don't have one or the other, you have no chance. Period.

Here's our cheat sheet on how things stand in both primary fields as of today. Save this one; this race is going to be absolutely fascinating.


Dianne Feinstein: The California senator is the unquestioned frontrunner if she decides she wants to run. Those close to her insist that DiFi, whose term is not up until 2012, is taking a very serious look at coming home to California to close out a career that has spanned nearly four decades. Feinstein has almost universal name recognition in the state, meaning that anyone looking to challenge her in the primary would need to spend significant cash just to get to even with her.

Jerry Brown: If Feinstein decides against running, Brown, who is currently the state's attorney general, becomes the favorite due, again, to his high name identification statewide. Brown is a legend in California Democratic politics, having served as secretary of state, governor and mayor of Oakland with several bids for president thrown in for good measure. Brown is a beloved figure among the liberal base of the party, the crucial voting bloc in the Democratic primaries.

Gavin Newsom: The mayor of San Francisco has already formed an exploratory committee and brought on highly regarded operative Nick Clemons to run the operation. Newsom, who has become a national figure for his outspoken support of gay marriage, has been traveling the state in recent months to campaign against Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage statewide. While not as well known as Brown or Feinstein, Newsom's national profile means he could probably pay the $20 million entrance fee for the primary. Two complicating factors: he and Brown share a base in the northern California liberal community and his highly-publicized affair with the wife of a former top aide.

John Garamendi: Garamendi is an old hand in California politics, having spent time in the state Assembly, state Senate and as insurance commissioner and now lieutenant governor. He has already formed an exploratory committee and is likely to run unless Feinstein gets in. It's hard to see him as something other than a second tier candidate, however. He is not in the financial arena of Brown and Newsom (or even Villaraigosa) and is not as well known as either DiFi or Brown.

Antonio Villaraigosa: Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, is surprisingly well known statewide and very ambitious. He is clearly considering a run statewide but the sharp political minds in the state seem to believe he will ultimately take a pass. Villaraigosa is up for reelection next year and while he is not likely to face serious opposition, it would take a very quick turnaround for him to put the money together to run for governor less than a year later. And, like Newsom, Villaraigosa has personal problems that would assuredly come up in the campaign.

Steve Westly: The former state Comptroller ran for governor in 2006 and narrowly lost the primary to state Treasurer Phil Angelides who went on to be swamped by Schwarzenegger in the general election. Westly is extremely well off and spent tens of millions in that losing effort. Those deep pockets and his very early support of Obama's campaign could make him something of a dark horse in the governor's race.


Steve Poizner: Poizner, elected insurance commissioner in 2006, starts the contest as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for two reasons. First, he has considerable personal wealth -- he started the company that put global positioning devices in cell phones -- and a willingness to spend it on the race. Second, he has former state Sen. Jim Brulte, a major Republican power broker, on his side. Poizner also announced the support of 21 sitting state legislators, a nice show of institutional support in the early going.

Meg Whitman: The former CEO of eBay is seriously considering the contest but that decision is on hold until the November election as Whitman is a major surrogate and adviser to McCain. Whitman has hired Mercury Strategies, the firm that includes McCain operational manager Steve Schmidt, to help her in her future endeavors, and those close to the state party say she is making clear the race is a real possibility.

Carly Fiorina: Fiorina, like Whitman, is in McCain's inner circle and therefore won't seriously focus on the contest until after November. Fiorina's preference seems to be a spot in the McCain cabinet; she is not working it nearly as hard back in the state as Whitman and ultimately is not expected to run.

Tom Campbell: The former Congressman has some residual statewide name identification from his quixotic race against DiFi in 2000 when he received just 37 percent of the vote. Campbell, a moderate, has already formed an exploratory committee for the race but questions remain about his ability to raise the sort of money necessary to compete with the wealthy candidates like Poizner and Whitman.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 16, 2008; 1:14 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Handling the Economic Crisis: 10 Bright (Political) Ideas
Next: Democrats Slam Coleman On Iraq


CA Rep Darrell Issa would make a great Governor or senator. Go Issa Go!!

Posted by: Califoria Man | September 19, 2008 12:32 AM | Report abuse

If I wanted to read comments about how wonderful McCain or Obama are (or how miserable McCain or Obama are), I would read the postings at the end of stories about the Presidential race, not at the end of stories about the Gubenatorial race in California. Can the Kool-Aid drinkers on both sides restrain themselves long enough to link themselves back to a story that is about the POTUS and not about the GOVCA?!

Thank you!

Posted by: Bored in Nevada | September 17, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | September 17, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

If Matt Gonzalez could get the money i would like him to run. After listning to him on youtube i have no doubt he could do the job.

You can´t trust a democrat.

But of course it´s only a dream.

Posted by: Thelvino | September 17, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Its way to early to start "programming" the election for CA governor...I don't like any one on your list and the failures of Arnold are now well established with his current budget crisis and failed leadership. Diane "Funny" Feinstein, wait until people dig into her background and that of her husband's and see how they have racked in millions in government contracts from the war.

I mean, do you ever hear her out there talking about it....I don't ever see it!!

Posted by: Michael | September 17, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse


McCain has the better Economic policies by far.

The message is that Obama is out of touch with the economic situation of Americans - Obama is more concerned with Hollywood glamour and his celebrity friends.

McCain has the gritty style to make the tough decisions which have to be made to get the economy roaring again.

Does anyone believe that Obama's proposals for additional giant government programs are going to help the economy - seriously Obama's inclination is toward government assistance.

McCain has the right advisors around him to create the economic strategies which will fuel this country's economy.

Obama's high tax proposals are going to hurt the economy and make it harder for Americans to pay their bills.

McCain's proposals to fight the lobbyists in Washington will create significant
GROWTH EFFECTS within the eocnomy - GROWTH will be spurred as inefficient economic drags are reduced industry by industry by MCCAIN'S STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS POLICIES WHICH MCCAIN HAS BEEN PRESSING FOR OVER 10 YEARS.

McCain's economic program is much better for the economic growth of America.


Posted by: 37th&OStreet | September 17, 2008 7:21 AM | Report abuse

Obama's Double-Dealing Diplomacy
1 hour, 52 minutes ago (9-16-08)
Investor's Business Daily

Election '08: Barack Obama premised his campaign on calling for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. But now he's been quietly telling Iraq "not so fast." It's part of a deceptive pattern.

Election: Barack Obama, who premised his campaign on calling for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, has now been quietly telling Iraq "not so fast." It's part of a deceptive pattern.Iraq's Foreign Minister Moshyar Zebari told the New York Post's Amir Taheri that Obama made delaying the troops' return a key theme of his talks with Iraqi leaders during his campaign stop in Baghdad last July.

"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the U.S. elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari told Teheri, on the record.

Funny, that's not what Obama told voters. He has made an immediate pullout the cornerstone of his campaign. Taheri's report signals the Democratic standard-bearer would manipulate the war's end for political advantage and is willing to deceive voters to do it.

This in itself is reprehensible. But his secret calls also leave U.S. troops unnecessarily in harm's way. It's the kind of foreign policy meddling that serves Obama's interests over the national interest.

"Obama has given Iraqis the impression that he doesn't want Iraq to appear anything like a success, let alone a victory, for America," Taheri reported. "To be credible, his foreign-policy philosophy requires Iraq to be seen as a failure, a disaster, a quagmire, a pig with lipstick or any of the other apocalyptic adjectives used by the American defeat industry in the past five years."

Can Obama be trusted? We ask because he's shown a pattern of secretive double-dealing with voters, not just in his talking about small town voters one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco, as Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin pointed out, but particularly in foreign affairs.

It dates back to at least February, when Obama's economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, secretly told the Canadian embassy that Obama's demagoguery against NAFTA in the primaries was just a Styrofoam-pillar bid to win the Ohio vote.

Obama's pattern of deception continued. In March, Colombian troops raided a FARC terrorist camp in Ecuador and recovered a terrorist computer belonging to a top FARC warlord, Raul Reyes.

Computer e-mails revealed that someone who knew Obama's positions had secretly met with the terrorists and assured them Obama would cut U.S. military aid under Plan Colombia and veto its free trade pact. Both are major goals of the Marxist terrorists aligned with America's enemies.

Subsequent events confirmed this. Obama did come out in favor of shutting Colombia out of free trade. More disturbingly, Obama adviser Daniel Restrepo last week told Colombia's Radio Caracol that Obama planned to convert the military aid Colombia needs to crush terrorists into social aid programs that don't.

That's not the end of it. Now Obama is double-dealing with Iraqi officials to leave American troops in harm's way and prolong the appearance of war long enough to call it a failure and win votes.

The astonishing thing about Obama's deals is they're the very thing Democrats accused Republicans of without a shred of proof.

They accused Richard Nixon of making a secret deal with the North Vietnamese to prolong the Vietnam war enough to presumably win election in 1968.

Years later, in 1980, they accused Ronald Reagan of making a secret deal with Iranian terrorists holding U.S. diplomats hostage to win election over incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Neither of these claims, often repeated by leftist historians, has ever been proven. But the statement of Iraq's foreign minister, speaking to a leading writer on foreign policy, is considerably stronger as evidence. It signals that Obama places politics over the national interest to the extent that he would work against his own public positions to gull voters into electing him.

It's the absolute opposite of John McCain's courageous position supporting the surge in Iraq, even as politicos were warning him he'd lose the election for it. "I'd rather lose an election than lose a war," McCain said.

With Obama's promises to sit down with dictators in Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and Iran, voters have a right to ask if he's made any deals at odds with his public condemnations of them, too. Before he starts acting like president, he needs to come clean to voters and reveal his true positions. Whatever they are, voters have a right to know.

Posted by: Scott | September 16, 2008 8:56 PM | Report abuse


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Voted One of the Nation's Best Blogs for the Election of 2008:

Bookmark it now !


Posted by: Anonymous | September 16, 2008 8:29 PM | Report abuse

I will support any Democrat except Feinstein. She has betrayed the Democratic Party and is way to conservative for a sensible state like California. We like real liberals not Republican lite.

Posted by: Larry Saltzman | September 16, 2008 7:17 PM | Report abuse

With McCain's and Palin's ties with eBay, the one thing we can expect if McCain gets the presidency is that we can buy white house furnitures, cutlery, memorablia etc on eBay. Sarah Palin will be going room by room saying that this country can not afford to keep those things in the white house and has to be auctioned off on eBay.

Posted by: Simone Cameron | September 16, 2008 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Democtratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of the 47th district opened an exploratory committee in 2005 called "people for loretta 2010", she's been in congrees over ten years and represents a true swing district - with Bush winning her district by only 1% in 2004, might be a dark horse.

Posted by: Huw | September 16, 2008 5:44 PM | Report abuse

The derugulation of Wall street by McCain's trustedfriends in Washington and the privatization of our government by the Bush administration have run this country down on its knees. Bush and Cheney decided to invade Iraq and then gave all the contracts in Iraq for its military supplies and reconstruction to Dick Cheney's Halliburton. McCain also wants to strip the government down so that more government work can be written off as contracts to companies the McCain family has ties with. This policy of privatization of crucial government and military work and the deregulation and opening of our markets to foreign investors with out any regard for the working people of this country has led to all these financial and mortgage fiasco we see today. During the Bush administration we saw the biggest firms in this country folding down and the CEOs and top management of most of these comapanies were buddies of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Remember Enron? Now the banks are all falling apart and McCain gets up on stage and says the fundamentals of our financial institutions are sound. Here's an old man running for the presidency who has no college credentials, has never seen his own wifes tax return, has never looked at a company's quarterly report to even understand what is written in them, saying the fundamentals of our economy is sound. He has taken a running mate who equally has no credible degree in finance, our constitution or law and whose credentials he boasts is that she wears lipstick and is Ms.Congeniality. Now these two jokers want to run our country even further to the ground.

Posted by: Mel Washington | September 16, 2008 5:44 PM | Report abuse

There's some interesting spin coming from ol' straight-talker Johnny McCain today considering that he has voted with Bush over 90% of the time the last eight years and that McCain's economic advisor, Phil Gramm, was the biggest player out there in the deregulating of Wall Street.

Posted by: say what? | September 16, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I worked with Carly Fiorina. Fiorina is just a joke. She needs an image makeover before anybody takes her seriously. The best she can hope for is a cabinet position in the McCain administration. But given the bad blood between Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin after Fiorina's comment about Sarah Palin that she can't even run a company, I don't think McCain will be serious about offering Carly Fiorina any cabinet position.

Posted by: Kim | September 16, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I think Villaraigosa will run hard if Feinstein doesn't go. If Feinstein goes, maybe he waits a term and then runs. He will be our first Latino Governor one day!

Of course, it would be great if he stayed in LA and took on reform of the totally incompetent LA County government. If we could create a single county executive, that person would be the most powerful local government leader in America.

Posted by: windserf | September 16, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse


You forgot Alec Baldwin, maybe as energy commisioner? Better yet, how about Public Defender, because after the way he dressed down his daughter for her loyalty to Kim Basinger, I'm sure he would be dynamite in California's courts, especial the 9th "Circus' Court

Posted by: TexasProud | September 16, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I nominate Matt Damon,for the next california Gov.( Jason Bourne will
beat them repugs tail!)Lindsay lohan
for Lt.Gov. Paris Hilton Comptoller,
Snoop-Dog atty.General,Samuel L. jackson
Speaker of the House.

Posted by: NWA | September 16, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I agree it's a Feinstein-Brown race unless one of the mayors wins the nomination through default, and then you have a real tossup because California, as a whole, is more moderate than San Francisco. Here in Texas, it's going to be interesting because nobody likes our governor, especially Republicans. Sen. Hutchinson has already told many of us in the grassroots she's running, and she is to Texas what Feinstein is to California; if she wants, she'll get it.

Posted by: TexasProud | September 16, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Really, Razorback, "silly liberal"? How can you expect us to categorize you in the Venomous, Hateful Conservative box if you use nice words like "silly"? I mean, there must be one or two angry right-wing hate blogs out there that provide the list of things to call liberals, aren't there?

But "silly"? Thanks, I guess.

Posted by: dognabbit | September 16, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse


I'm guessing that you're not from California, or at least you were not living there when the electricity crisis occurred. Therefore, you can be forgiven for not understanding how it happened.

CA never, ever, had an insufficient supply of electricity to power the state. Between its local generation and import of electricity from other states, they always had enough. However, because CA limited their coal and nuclear power in favor of natural gas and hydroelectric, they no longer had as large a reserve as they used to.

Enter the speculators. Beginning in 1998 under then-governor Pete Wilson (R), the CA legislature began the partial deregulation of their energy industry, forcing the Investor Owned Utilities in CA to sell a large portion of their power generation capability to unregulated, private, out of state companies (Enron, most notably).

These private companies then began to manipulate the energy market by withholding generation and creating artificial restraints on energy transmission.

While Gray Davis could be blamed for not handling the crisis well, it was the partial deregulation of electricity that led to the predatory actions of Enron and the other guilty companies.

Posted by: JamesCH | September 16, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

No quibbles with this early line. I am guessing some new names will pop-up on both sides as we get closer to the end of the year. I would really like to see a reformer like Leon Panetta get into the race.

Posted by: Jim Ross | September 16, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Rich, a Republican can (and did) win when some silly liberals began to believe their own lies about the environment and being against power plants and transmission lines. Things were great until the regular people hit the light switch and nothing happened.

Posted by: Razorback | September 16, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Feinstein? Yuck!!!! Is she still a Democrat? I figured she would be the next Leibermann. I am a good Democrat but I would have a very hard time stomaching Feinstein.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | September 16, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Texas, that gubernatorial race should be interesting.

On the GOP size, the longest standing governor in the state's history is liked little, and Senator Hutchison is once again considering a run, perhaps more seriously this time. State rep. Leo Berman, a heavy conservative, says he'll run if things don't go his way in the legislative session. The Lt. Governor also seems to be mulling a run.

And on the Democratic side, the activists in the party feel like a statewide office is back in their grasp, if only they can get the right candidate. Bill White is obviously considering, and he's the most skilled politician in Houston, if not the state; I would think.

Posted by: Michael Hurta | September 16, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

If I lived in OR or NV I would watch this closely.

If they elect some silly liberal who prohibits construction of utility plants and transmission lines and raises all kinds of taxes, people will start leaving (again).

Posted by: Razorback | September 16, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

It's sad to see so many Americans have little to no brain cells to recognize the harm of what a McCain / Palin administration would do to our country.

Scary stuff.

Posted by: Bob Dole | September 16, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I should mention also that state-level politics often shows no similarity (with respect to party) as national politics. (I'm looking at you, North Dakota)

Posted by: Finn | September 16, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

But remember, TexasProud, that CA has only had 4 Democratic governors since 1900, one of whom was recalled and another was the aforementioned Jerry Brown.

Posted by: Finn | September 16, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse


New Jersey and Virginia are up in 2009 - you can get your fix in that Commonwealth and State.


Posted by: 37th&OStreet | September 16, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to Barack Obama running for President, Democrats have registered more than 300,000 new voters while Republicans have only registered 15,000 this past year.
In a state that is 60% Democrat, this is a race between DiFi and Jerry Brown. All else need not apply. A Republican can only win if he or she is a movie star.

Posted by: Rich | September 16, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

In reality, if Feinstein wants it, she ends up getting it. California is a blue state and no true conservative reformer would have a sho. Now if she passes, then it's a whole new ballgame. If McCain can keep the deficit in the state to single digits, then Meg or Carla is realistic, but otherwise, they are wasting their time.

Posted by: TexasProud | September 16, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

In reality, if Feinstein wants it, she ends up getting it. California is a blue state and no true conservative reformer would have a sho. Now if she passes, then it's a whole new ballgame. If McCain can keep the deficit in the state to single digits, then Meg or Carla is realistic, but otherwise, they are wasting their time.

Posted by: TexasProud | September 16, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse


Ah, it's never too early to look over the horizon!

CA should be exciting in 2010 for the Sen. race as well -- rumor has it that Ahnold is thinking about running for Boxer's seat after his governorship is over.

Posted by: mnteng | September 16, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

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