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Who wants to run California?

The state's budget is in shambles, but candidates are already lining up for the 2010 gubernatorial race. They include San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former eBay chief Meg Whitman.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / June 2, 2009

California State Capitol Building, Sacramento.



With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) barred by term limits from running for reelection – and with one of the lowest ratings for a governor here – the dynamics of next year’s gubernatorial election are beginning to sift out in California.

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Six candidates are beginning to emerge from the shadows, testing the waters for one of the most unwieldy jobs in American politics. The Craigslist classified might read: “Wanted: head of government serving 39 million people. Deeply in debt. Infrastructure crumbling. One of highest bars for getting budget approvals or tax increases (two-thirds of the legislature). Government restructuring needed. Voters unwilling.”

The candidates include mayors of the state’s two most populous cities, Gavin Newsom of San Francisco and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles; two Silicon Valley millionaires, former eBay chief Meg Whitman and current state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner; and two former officeholders, former Rep. Tom Campbell and former Gov. Jerry Brown, now state attorney general.

“We have a number of very qualified candidates, all of whom would be crazy to want it, but they all think they are the ones who can solve California's problems,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.

There are also two other candidates who may declare. One is state treasurer Bill Lockyer, whose name has been floated as a possible dark horse, and the other is US Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“The elephant in the room is: Will Dianne Feinstein come in? There’s about a 50 percent chance,” says Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University.

But the May 19 special election – in which five sweeping government fiscal-reform measures were soundly rejected by voters – may have reduced the chances that a Democrat will be the automatic alternative to Governor Schwarznegger, say analysts.

“The May 19 election was a conservative backlash against the budget the Democrats had forged,” says Tony Quinn, co-editor of California Target Book, a nonpartisan analysis of legislative races and politics. After the vote, Schwarzenegger last week proposed sweeping budget cuts, including across-the-board salary cuts to the state’s 230,000 state workers.

"The current political climate makes it less likely for the Democrats to automatically win the governorship next year," Dr. Quinn adds.

Whitman gets McCain’s backing

It’s too soon to predict front-runners but some candidates are grabbing early attention.

Mayor Newsom last week called for a $5 donation to his campaign to create an “army of change.” “Donate 5 bucks to change CA,” he wrote on his Facebook account.