San Francisco's Newsom launches lieutenant governor bid

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom confirmed he's running for lieutenant governor of California, and enters the race as the Democratic frontrunner, political analysts say.

Paul Sakuma/AP
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom speaks during a panel discussion at Santa Clarita University in Santa Clara University on Sept. 16.

Despite having once laughed at the notion of running for California lieutenant governor, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom confirmed Friday that he’s jumping into the race for the state’s No. 2 spot.

Mr. Newsom, who surprised many when he ended a gubernatorial bid last October, announced his candidacy in an early morning TV interview, ending weeks of speculation that he would enter the race for lieutenant governor.

“If you told me two months ago we’d be sitting down having this conversation, I would say, ‘no way.’ But enough people came to me and made a case for this office,” Newsom told CBS 5.

Many political analysts have long said that Newsom, known as much for his boyish looks as his liberal politics, viewed his San Francisco mayorship as a launching pad for higher office.

Newsom grabbed national attention in 2004 when he began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples in San Francisco at a time when gay marriage was illegal in California. That move was halted by the California Supreme Court, beginning a contentious battle over same-sex marriage in the state that is still playing out in the courts.

In entering the statewide race, Newsom’s biggest competition in the June Democratic primary appears to be Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn. But in a February poll taken at a time when there were only rumors of Newsom’s interest, he led Ms. Hahn by 16 points among Democratic voters.

Hahn has wasted little time in going after Newsom for dismissing the job of lieutenant governor when he was campaigning for governor. On her YouTube channel, Hahn is airing old interviews of the mayor saying he doesn’t even know what the lieutenant governor does.

In Friday’s interview with CBS 5, Newsom explained his dismissiveness as an attempt to deflect speculation that he would opt for the No. 2 spot since he was trailing in the polls behind Attorney General Jerry Brown, who officially announced his candidacy for governor earlier this month.

“I was running for governor and the focus was on governor. It wasn’t on another office. And, you know, there were a lot of machinations to get me out of that governor’s office to get me to run for lieutenant governor,” Newsom said.

Garry South, who worked as a senior adviser on Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign and now works for Hahn, said he was “surprised and perplexed” by Newsom’s last-minute entrance into the statewide race.

“In every one of several conversations we had about the job while he was running for governor, the Mayor expressed nothing but disinterest in and disdain for the office of lieutenant governor,” Mr. South said in a statement. “In fact, he was derisively dismissive of Gray Davis’s decision to run for and serve as lieutenant governor prior to running for governor (‘I’m not a Gray Davis,’ he said).”

Newsom will have a difficult time shaking comparisons to the former Governor Davis, who served as lieutenant governor before a gubernatorial term that ended in a recall. But political analysts say he has the statewide name recognition that makes him the frontrunner going into June's primary vote.

If he wins, Newsom would probably face state Sen. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican who Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed to fill the lieutenant governor position vacated by John Garamendi, a Democrat who left state office for a seat in Congress.

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