Newsom's choice of girlfriends — from the Scientologist actress to the 19-year-old hostess — has found its way into print and caused the mayor to lash out in brittle ways that have hurt his relations with once-friendly outlets like the Chronicle, which openly mocked Newsom's televised comments last month about how hard his job is and how he might not run for reelection.
Finally, there are the new electoral realities: this is the first mayor's race in which challengers will receive public financing from a $7 million fund (almost all of which, Newsom campaign manager Eric Jaye argues, will be aimed at doing damage to Newsom) and the first with ranked-choice voting, allowing candidates to run as a team and gang up on the mayor.
Add it all up, and Newsom looks vulnerable. But that's only the first part of a two-part question. The trickier part is who can run against Newsom, and that's a question to which nobody has any good answer yet.
Among the names being dropped for a mayoral run are Dennis Herrera, Aaron Peskin, Ross Mirkarimi, Matt Gonzalez, Kamala Harris, Mark Leno, Agnos, Susan Leal, Angela Alioto, Lou Girardo, Warren Hellman, Jeff Adachi, Tony Hall, Leland Yee, Daly, Michael Hennessey, Quentin Kopp, and Carole Migden. That's quite a list.
Yet most say they are disinclined to run this time around, and none are likely to announce their candidacies in the near future, which is when most observers believe a serious run at Newsom would have to begin. Here's the catch-22: nobody wants to run against Newsom unless his approval rating sinks below 60 percent, but it's unlikely to sink that low unless there are rivals out there challenging him every day.
Two candidates who already hold citywide office and could aggressively challenge Newsom on police issues are Sheriff Hennessey and District Attorney Harris, both of whom have mainstream credentials as well as supporters in the progressive community. But both have expressed reluctance to run in the next mayoral election, at least in part because they're also standing for reelection this fall and would need to leave their jobs to run for mayor.
Public Defender Adachi is a favorite of many progressives and could also run on police reform, but his job of representing sometimes heinous criminals could be easy for the Newsom team to attack Willie Horton–<\d>style.
Many of the strongest potential candidates are thought to be waiting four more years until the seat is open. City Attorney Herrera can take as much credit as Newsom for gay marriage and is a tough campaigner and formidable fundraiser who has clearly been setting himself up for higher office. Assemblymember Leno has won over progressives since his divisive 2002 primary against Harry Britt and could be mayoral material, particularly because he's termed out in two years. But both are allies of Newsom and reluctant to run against him.
Several supervisors and former supervisors would love to beat Newsom, but the road seems steep for them. Daly just got beat up in his own reelection, so his negatives are too high to run again right now. Supervisor Mirkarimi might run, but some consider him too Green and too green and are urging him to wait four more years. Board President Peskin could also be a contender, but some doubt his citywide appeal and note a few bad votes he's cast.
Challenges from Newsom's right could include Kopp, the former legislator and judge; Hall, the former supervisor whom Newsom ousted from his Treasure Island post; businessman and attorney Girardo; financier and philanthropist Hellman; and Alioto, who ran last time. But these would-be challengers are generally less liberal than Newsom, who pundits say is as conservative a mayor as a town with an ascendant progressive movement will tolerate.
Finally, there's Gonzalez, who four years ago jumped in the mayor's race at the last minute, was outspent by Newsom six-to-one, and still came within less than five percentage points of winning.