Washington Prowler

Meeting of Minds

California Democrats jockey for a place at the recall table. Also: Patty Murray's challenger.

By 7.30.03

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WILLIE BROWN TIME
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown may on the down side of his political career in Baghdad by the Bay, but that doesn't mean he isn't trying to keep his hand in the state's politics as king maker.

His latest foray is a meeting he pulled together yesterday to discuss the Gov. Gray Davis recall tragedy besetting the Democrats.

Who showed probably is not a surprise -- Davis's ornery political guru, Garry South, a couple of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's old campaign hands, and political consultant Richie Ross, who was probably representing all of his clients: Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, state attorney general Bill Lockyer and the United Farm Workers. The California Teachers Association was also said at press time to have had a seat at the table.

"It reads like back to school night for Brown's Sacramento cabal," says a legislative aide to a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, referring to Brown's tenure as speaker of the state assembly. "Brown thinks he can decide who will be mayor of San Francisco, who will be on the board of supervisors, and now he's trying to pull the strings on how the Democrats will handle the recall."

The meeting was one of many that have probably been occurring around the state, as Democrats try to figure out how best to avoid being ignominiously tossed from the governorship.

Bustamante, Lockyer and Feinstein have both denied interest in running against Davis, and their wisdom may be playing out in poll numbers that show Davis performing better when put up next to a specific potential Republican candidate.

Both the farm workers and the state teachers association are longtime shills for Brown and the state Democratic Party, and they'll be critical to getting the vote out in urban centers and across the state.

Perhaps surprising was that Rep. Nancy Pelosi's people were locked out of the meeting, as were people from Sen. Barbara Boxer's camp. According to the legislative aide, rumors in City Hall had Pelosi trying to horn in on the meeting, and perhaps even holding her own get-together in order to appear on top of the political scene in her adoptive home state. Her exclusion is even more surprising considering the House of Representatives is on summer recess and she certainly would have been available.

IT'S OFFICIAL, JUST ABOUT
Sen. George Allen is telling Republicans in Washington that he finally got his man to run against Sen. Patty Murray in Washington State next year.

Rep. George Nethercutt, who has been riding the fence about whether or not to challenge the two-term senator, isn't confirming anything, but Allen and his people on the National Republican Senatorial Committee aren't denying it, either.

Nethercutt was the second-best hope for the GOP after Rep. Jennifer Dunn took a pass on the challenge, but he had been publicly leery of jumping into the race.

Allen made commitments of fundraising help, however, and the White House seemed supportive enough to push Nethercutt over the edge.

An established political name was seen as critical to downing Murray given the fundraising necessary to defeat an incumbent, especially in a liberal-voting state like Washington.

That said, Washington is seen a potential swing state for Republicans in 2004 if the issues fall right, and despite Nethercutt's conservative voting record, he is a popular in-state political figure, particularly in rural areas.

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