Recently, Obama went to Costa Mesa in Orange County to give a speech. Why did he go to a Republican area in California instead of a heavily Democratic city such as Los Angeles or California? The answer is the Hispanic voters Obama is trying to court. They could decide the future in the gubernatorial primary. The potential Democratic field includes: Former Governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown, Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Other potential candidates could include California Schools Superintendent Jack O’ Connell and former State Controller Steve Westley though it seems difficult for them to make a serious run. I do not believe Dianne Feinstein will run because she is now the leader of the U.S Senate’s Intelligence Committee, a post she may not want to give up if she runs for Governor. If she does run, she would be the clear favorite and others could drop out of the field. Since it is a very tight primary field, a candidate, does not need 50% of the vote to win. A recent Field poll had Jerry Brown and Villaraigosa tied at 16%, Newsom with 10% and Garamendi with 4%. Dianne Feinstein was about 20 points ahead of Brown and Villaraigosa. Still, this is an early field poll and leads can change. Pundits seemed surprised Villaraigosa was performing so well but I was not. I have held the theory for a long time that in the end, the race will come down to Jerry Brown, Antonio Villaraigosa and perhaps Gavin Newsom with Villaraigosa winning by a few points.
Here is why:
1) Garamendi has long been a standing figure in California politics. He even ran in the 1982 California Democratic gubernatorial Primary but lost to Tom Bradley. He was a state senator but then was elected the Insurance Commissioner for California in 1990. In 2006, he ran for Lieutenant Governor against Conservative Tom McClintock and won by only four points. Garamendi's base is in Sacramento which he represented in the state legislature from 1974 to 1990. That did not help him in the primary for lieutenant governor in 06, because he lost that county by 5 points to Jackie Speier, the new congresswoman for California's 12th Congressional District (that district covers the Sunset District of San Francisco as well the northern part of San Mateo County). Garamendi won by racking up huge margins in Southern California, winning Los Angeles County by 29 points and accumulating a margin of 167,000 votes there, more than twice his state margin of victory which was 70,000 votes. Garamendi will probably lose the Southern California battle to Villaraigosa. From analyzing this data, Garamendi does not have a strong enough base to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary. It seems that time has passed by Garamendi.
2) Gavin Newsom is the charismatic young mayor of San Francisco. He has not run a statewide race before so there is no hard data outside of his home base of San Francisco to show how he will do statewide. I can speculate and we have some very good guesses to how Newsom will fare in the primary. When he first ran for mayor of San Francisco, he ran as a centrist Democrat, calling himself a moderate by that city’s standards. In the rest of California however, Newsom is viewed as very Liberal. He is young, extremely photogenic and articulate and could campaign in the style of Barack Obama. Like Obama, Newsom is reaching out to voters on the internet. He will dominate the blogosphere, facebook and twitter. Newsom’s problem is that his popularity does not seem to extend outside of San Francisco and even in San Francisco, he lost some popularity. State-wide he is viewed as too controversial on gay rights as his portrayal in Proposition 8 ads alienated some voters. This could hurt him among the 32% of the Democratic voters who supported Proposition 8. That vote came mostly from religious Hispanics and African Americans. This Proposition 8 stance will probably hurt in the general election. Also, the affair with his former campaign manager’s wife may return to haunt him. In the primary, Newsom will carry San Francisco but where else will he win? He will probably carry Marin County, just north of San Francisco because of his local roots. He can probably win university counties such as Yolo, Santa Cruz, Humboldt, Santa Barbara along with maybe San Luis Obispo and Butte counties. Still, the available amount of votes in those counties is too small to win. He is a progressive Liberal but so is Jerry Brown. Newsom will be too Liberal and controversial for the Central Valley and most of Southern California. If Newsom is able to get rid of his baggage and appear as an Obama “for change” Liberal, he should do better than expected. He is trying to win the Westside Los Angeles Liberals. They were not so warm to Villaraigosa during his recent primary. He could wage a battle in the Bay Area and beat Brown there. This is possible and if it does happen, it is unlikely Brown will obtain enough votes to win.
3) Jerry Brown is the Attorney General of California and was the Governor in the 1970’s. He was a popular Governor with progressive policies but since he was Governor a generation ago, I estimate that only 20%-25% of the voters remember Jerry Brown. He has reinvented himself, however by becoming mayor of Oakland and becoming Attorney General in 2006. He won 63%-37% against Rocky Delgadillo who was the Hispanic City Attorney for Los Angeles. This race reunited Brown with California’s voters. This large margin could bode well for Brown in the primary. Still, Brown will face stronger competition in the Gubernatorial primary from Villaraigosa and Newsom. In general, Villaraigosa would do well in Southern California and the Central Valley. For Jerry Brown, the key will be to beat Gavin Newsom in the Bay Area by racking up large margins in the East Bay and winning in San Jose. Villaraigosa may be competitive in San Jose because of its large Hispanic population. Jerry Brown will need to do well, as he did against Delgadillo, in the Sierras, and San Diego County. A swing group for all three main candidates could be Bay Area Hispanics. The prospect of a Hispanic Governor could appeal to them but they may be inclined to vote for someone from the Bay Area. Also, Jerry Brown will have to beat Newsom in the university counties which will be an arduous task. Yet, it really comes down to Jerry Brown getting enough votes against Newsom in the Bay Area to carry enough votes against the Los Angeles based and potential statewide support of Villaraigosa. Brown seems keenly aware of this based on his office’s recent decision to oppose Proposition 8. Still, Jerry Brown won by 18 points in the general election for Attorney General, a sign that he could still be extremely popular around the state.
4) Antonio Villaraigosa, the current mayor of Los Angeles is also the former Speaker of the state legislature and is a national Hispanic leader. He is popular in Los Angeles but the key to win will be a large turnout of Hispanics, his Los Angeles base and key Hispanic Congressional districts through the state. He needs to carry San Joaquin County. It is a swing area with Hispanics and voters from the Bay Area. In the 2008 California Democratic Presidential Primary, Hispanics made up 30% of the primary's voters. That is good news for Villaraigosa and because of that turnout, he should benefit if he can garner that support in a non Presidential primary year. Another strength of Villaraigosa’s is that he is popular with organized labor. Villaraigosa also did very well with African Americans in the Los Angeles mayoral election. He won white liberals in the Westside of Los Angeles so Villaraigosa could prevent Newsom and Brown from making inroads among them. Newsom’s strategy to win them may make that group more competitive. The key is turnout of the Hispanic voter and the basic support of the rest of his base because there may be a large turnout of white Liberals in the Bay Area for Newsom and Brown which might offset any increase in Hispanic turnout. Villaraigosa first has to become more known and appear as a leader to Hispanics. The problem is he may not even be very popular in his own city. On the March 3rd, 2009 mayoral primary, he won with only 55% of the vote. Still, this was a low turnout primary. This margin for Villaraigosa shows how his ratings are poor as a mayor, especially for education. Something else is that Villaraigosa has a general election later this year and he has to raise money for that. In the Gubernatorial election, if Villaraigosa were running against Newsom or Brown only, Villaraigosa would lose. Yet, if Brown and Newsom do split the vote, it could be sure victory for Villaraigosa. Gubernatorial primaries in California usually have low turnout so if Villaraigosa can energize enough Hispanics, this could be the formula he needs to win. Consider the math: If Hispanics are 30% of the primary vote and Villaraigosa wins them 3-1, he already has 23% of the vote. He needs probably 39% to win. He can win the other 16% with organized labor and split the Los Angeles Westside with Newsom and Brown.
If all four of these candidates run, this gubernatorial primary will be very competitive and draw clear lines among voter groups. If it goes the way I predict, it will come down to Brown and Villaraigosa with Villaraigosa winning by a slight margin because of his expected turnout and Brown’s inability to gather enough votes in the Bay Area. If Newsom is competitive, he will hamper Brown’s chances. If Brown plays his cards completely wrong and Newsom gets past his scandals, Newsom will be Villaraigosa’s main rival. This may change because Garamendi may be stronger than I expect after years of courting party leadership. Still, that is unlikely. Feinstein may decide to run. Brown may have done enough for the liberal Bay Area voter on his revised stand on Prop. 8. Villaraigosa may not have the turnout among his base to win. Still, this is a primary not to be underestimated. Leads will keep changing and the primary could generate rising stars for the Democratic Party. This is a battle between three groups of Democrats: Obama Democrats who are part of the facebook generation led by Newsom, the baby boomer Liberals led by Jerry Brown and the Hispanics lead by Villaraigosa. If the race did not shift from where it is now, Villaraigosa will be the winner.