Political Hay

San Francisco Democrats

There aren't enough of them to make Gavin Newsom governor of California.

By 8.27.09

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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was speaking to a Stanford University political science class when he got down on one knee. Gazing into a student's eyes, he made this modest proposal: "Will you civil union me?"

Newsom didn't come to Stanford to get hitched. He was there the day before the November, 2008 election to persuade students to vote against Proposition 8 and uphold the California Supreme Court's decision to impose same-sex marriage. Newsom's civil union proposal was intended to prove that nothing less than full gay marriage will do. Instead it may have proved how out of touch Newsom is with Californians outside the socially liberal Bay Area -- a disconnect that is crippling his campaign for governor.

It's not just that Newsom's political judgment is such that he would spend the day before an election campaigning on a college campus where most people already agreed with him and a majority of students already claim an out-of-state residence. By almost any measure, Newsom is trailing Attorney General Jerry Brown, the former Oakland mayor and national liberal hero who would like to make a triumphant return to California's governorship 36 years after succeeding Ronald Reagan.

On the fundraising side, Newsom has struggled immensely. According to the California Secretary of State's office, the only declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate has $1.2 million cash-on-hand and raised $1.7 million in the first half of 2009. The still undeclared Jerry Brown has $7.4 million cash-on-hand and raised double the money that Newsom gathered during the first half of the year.

The difference in finances is stunning, considering Newsom's base in wealthy San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and will only get worse once Brown officially tosses his hat into the ring. The attorney general took in 910 donations of $1000 or more in the first half of 2009, while Newsom only had 298 such contributions. Brown will likely be able to reach into that pool once again when he officially declares for governor because the legal maximum donation amount will move from $12,900 to $25,900.

Even in Newsom's own city, he has shown that he has so far not been able to reach to the Democratic establishment for fundraising. The San Francisco Examiner reported that local unions donated $34,500 to Brown but only $10,500 to Newsom. This suggests, contrary to Newsom's spin, that the mayor's problem isn't just Jerry Brown's high name recognition.

A bigger problem might just be that people don't like Gavin Newsom. He drew attention nationally in 2004 when he ordered the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses for San Francisco residents in defiance of California law. Within the same year, the Supreme Court of California annulled those marriages due to a conflict with state law.

In February 2007, Newsom admitted to having an affair with his secretary Ruby Rippey Tourk -- who happened to be the wife of his friend and former campaign manager Alex Tourk. Despite Newsom's blatant violation of the 9th Commandment, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," the voters of San Francisco re-elected him with an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote.

While Newsom was able to remain viable in San Francisco, a city not famous for traditional values, the mayor alienated large segments of the statewide population. He was featured in a Yes on 8 commercial, which displays a very jovial Newsom declaring that same-sex marriage is here to stay "whether you like it or not." The advertisement helped Prop 8 pass by a 600,000-vote victory.

Whether he likes it or not, it was Democratic black and Hispanic voters who passed Proposition 8 while whites were more likely to side with the judges on same-sex marriage. Newsom runs a city that is primarily wealthy, white or Asian. San Francisco is only 14 percent Hispanic and 7 percent black. The state as a whole is 37 percent Hispanic. While Brown is no social conservative -- he also favors same-sex marriage and as attorney general succeeded at wording Proposition 8 in a way that cost it support -- he has a proven track record of winning minorities, blue-collar voters, and union workers.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday that Newsom is losing even in his own city. A survey of San Francisco Democratic voters found Brown leading Newsom 51 percent to 34 percent, with just 8 percent undecided. A statewide Daily Kos poll showed Newsom doing 5 percent worse among Hispanics than Brown in head-to-head matchups with Republican Meg Whitman. The same poll showed 42 percent of Californians already dislike Newsom. He had the highest negatives of any candidate for governor and had the highest "very unfavorable" rating of all California incumbents and candidates for governor or Senate.

Gavin Newsom's campaign manager Eric Jaye has left him. The state's Democratic donors haven't warmed up to him. Even his constituents in San Francisco seem to be abandoning him as he runs for statewide office. Newsom's campaign for governor appears to be in trouble, whether he likes it or not.

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About the Author

Brian O'Connell is the Collegiate Network fellow at The American Spectator and former editor-in-chief of the Stanford Review.