Prop. 8 Decision Could Bolster Newsom
Today's ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding the state's ban on gay marriages could well be a political victory for the gubernatorial campaign of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the highest profile supporter of gay marriage in the Golden State.
The decision by the Court means that opponents of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage and passed by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin last November, will almost certainly push for a vote to repeal the measure in 2010.
Such a move will allow Newsom, who as mayor of San Francisco issued marriage certificates to gay and lesbian couples, to keep the issue at the forefront of voters' minds in advance of next year's Democratic primary where the vast majority of likely voters oppose Prop. 8.
"Newsom's campaign is predicated around the 'courage' message -- the courage to take on the gay rights subject at a time when many others would not," said California-based Democratic strategist Chris Lehane. "The unfortunate decision keeps the issue very much in the public spotlight and will allow him to continue to drive the courage profile -- that said, to ultimately benefit he needs to be able to seen as courageous not just on gay marriage."
Newsom's campaign downplayed the political element of the ruling as consultant Garry South said that his candidate "didn't view this issue in a political context when took the courageous action he did in 2004, and he is not going to view this disappointing court decision in a political context, either."
Interestingly, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, chose to praise Newsom -- backhandedly -- while taking a shot at the role state Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, played in the Prop. 8 process. "It is no surprise that Jerry Brown politicized and abused his latest position in an unprecedented way in order to play political catch-up with Gavin Newsom," said Poizner.
Worth noting: most polling shows Brown as the favorite in the Democratic primary, which may explain Poizner's decision to go after him.
Also worth noting: Brown was the plaintiff in the case before the California Supreme Court and will do everything he can not to cede the issue to Newsom.
While the ruling further emphasizes Newsom's liberal credentials to the very liberal voters who will decide the identity of the party's gubernatorial nominee next year, it isn't without political risk for the mayor.
Supporters of Proposition 8 used Newsom's words against him in ads last year, prompting worries from some Democratic strategists that if the San Francisco mayor was the party's nominee in 2010 it could have a chilling effect on outreach to moderates turned off by his outspoken support of gay marriage.
The California Supreme Court ruling today and near certain ballot initiative fight in 2010 over gay marriage virtually ensures that it will be a major part of any general election debate for governor in 2010. Republicans, then, will almost certainly try to cast Newsom as a product of the radical left, not able to understand the concerns and interests of people living outside of San Francisco.
Today's ruling points Newsom (yet again) squarely in the political spotlight. What he does with this opportunity will be a telling sign of whether or not he can overtake Brown in next year's primary.
May 26, 2009; 5:04 PM ET
Categories: Democratic Party , Governors
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