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.
September 16, 2008; 1:14 PM ET
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