[LATE BREAKING NEWS: Mayor Tony V announced today on CNN that he will NOT be running for governor. Calbuzz will have more on the impact on Tuesday. Meanwhile, here's today's post looking at the potential impact of that decision even before he made it.]
With time running short for Antonio Villaraigosa to enter the 2010 governor’s campaign, strategists for Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom are coveting the L.A. mayor’s political base in the event the Democratic primary race becomes a two-man contest.
In the looming competition to divvy up Tony V’s vote, Calbuzz thinks Attorney General Brown has the better chance of capturing the big prize — the large number of Latino and L.A. Democrats Villaraigosa would otherwise count on for support.
“Jerry runs the table – it’d be pretty monolithic” with Latinos if Villaraigosa stays out, said veteran consultant Richie Ross, who has run scores of campaigns for Latino candidates in the state.
“It’s a significant shift, and it shifts significantly in Jerry’s favor,” Ross added. “It’s not a commentary on Gavin Newsom, but Jerry’s got a real base – he was the first politician in California who recognized that Latinos were going to be a major force.”
Beyond Latinos, a Villaraigosa no-go decision would also put his L.A. campaign contributors up for grabs, along with slices of labor, gay and environmental voters for Brown and Newsom to fight over.
Garry South, Newsom’s chief strategist, said that if Tony V stays on the sidelines, “it opens up his L.A. fundraising base – and we’re already doing very well down here.”
Villaraigosa, who will not be sworn into his second mayoral term until next month, has not yet made a final decision not to run, Calbuzz sources say.
But several recent actions, including his acceptance of a leadership post in the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and a splashy love affair with an L.A. TV reporter, strongly suggest that a run for governor is not a top priority.
L.A. voters are not too keen on the idea of a Villaraigosa campaign for governor either: a new L.A. Times poll found 48% of voters saying Tony V should not run, compared to 42% who said he should.
Moreover, the Times Poll found that Villaraigosa’s lead among L.A. Democratic primary voters is only 7 percentage points over Brown – 38-31% — with Newsom a distant third at 13%.
In fact, Brown leads Tony V among white voters 41-22% in L.A. and among all voters 50 and older by 45-31%. Newsom sucks wind in L.A., with just 19% of whites and 11% of voters 50 and older.
Advisers to the L.A. mayor have argued privately that Villaraigosa would begin a gubernatorial campaign with a stronger base than either Brown or Newsom, estimating that Latino Democrats would represent as much as one-third of the primary vote, and claiming that more than three-fourths of them would support Villaraigosa.
Latinos, at 36 percent of the state’s population, are the largest and fastest growing minority in California, and overwhelmingly favor Democratic candidates over Republicans in statewide races.
But Ross and other consultants say the one-third estimate is greatly inflated, and that Latinos will more likely represent about 18-20 percent of he Democratic primary electorate. (Tony V’s spinners concoct that big Latino vote estimate by likening the projected turnout in June 2010 to what occurred in November 2008 — a presidential general election.)
Moreover, in the L.A. Times Poll, while Villaraigosa does indeed capture the lion’s share of Latino voters in a three-way race for governor – it’s not three-fourths – it’s 68%. And nearly one in three Latinos say Tony V shouldn’t run for governor at all.
Brown has long ties to California’s Latino community, including having had a close relationship with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, historic appointments like Cruz Reynoso to the state Supreme Court and Mario Obledo as Secretary of Health and Welfare, and his early recognition of the looming influence of the Latino community.
But Newsom strategist South said the Latino vote is “not monolithic – it’s very diverse.”
“The Latino electorate tends to be younger than the white and black electorates,” South added. “Will these voters be impressed with appointments Brown made and bills he signed in the ’70s?”
Joe Trippi, who is expected to run Brown’s campaign, thinks the attorney general would benefit in a variety of ways from Villaraigosa staying out.
“How’s Gavin going to pick up much of Antonio’s vote?” Trippi wonders. “He’s not going to beat Jerry among Latinos and blacks.”
And even if Newsom is able to make a generational appeal — which Trippi thinks is going to be much more difficult than South thinks it is — and even if Brown were to concede six in 10 voters under the age of 40 (which Trippi does not think will happen) — “there still aren’t enough voters for Newsom to overcome Brown’s appeal across demographics and geography.”
But South argues that Newsom’s appeal to younger voters and progressive Democrats, the very people who vote in primaries, is far more powerful that Brown’s old-school appeal so that Newsom benefits far more from a two-way race.
“It clearly sets up the one-on-one race against Jerry Brown that we have wanted from day one,” the Newsom strategist said.
The L.A. Times Poll, however, suggests Newsom has a long way to go. Not only does Brown win the older voters in Los Angeles (as noted above), but even among those under 50, while he trails Villaraigosa’s 44%, Brown draws 20% compared to Newsom’s puny 15%.
South may be right that a Brown-Newsom one-on-one would give the San Francisco mayor his best strategic shot at capturing the Democratic nomination, but it would also be a decidedly uphill battle for him to pull it off.
– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine