The two Newsoms - Page 7

The candidate for governor bears only a vague resemblance to the mayor of San Francisco
Photo by John M. Heller

He'll get to play this game on his ground," said David Latterman, a San Francisco political consultant who works with moderates like Newsom.

"We forget what the average person out there thinks or cares about," he continued, referring to San Francisco political insiders. "Local city politics bores more people. The stuff he hasn't done well is stuff nobody cares about."

Latterman says Newsom has an amazing ability to survive his many scandals and shortcomings and remain popular. "The guy is Teflon, he really is. Newsom is a charming guy. In a crowd, people like him."

This isn't an assessment everyone agrees with. Certainly Newsom can come off as arrogant, a trait displayed during his "it's coming, whether you like it or not" speech on same-sex marriage that the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign used so effectively against him in television ads.

O'Connor said she recently moderated a panel Newsom was on and wasn't impressed. "I was amazed at how facile he is. He has a long way to go to being able to connect to the person."

Cook and Latterman say Newsom has presided over a city that has shown real leadership on health care, environmentalism, technological innovation, and other issues Newsom is running on. "Newsom, as the leader of the city, gets credit for that," Latterman said.

That may infuriate San Franciscans who know more about Newsom, but that anger isn't likely to cause Newsom too many problems on the campaign trail. The stronger he gets hit by San Francisco progressives, the more he can use those attacks to explain why SF wackos are so hard to work with.

"He's trying to turn all those things into positives, saying that's why everyone hates him. It's Arnold 101," Cook said.

Newsom's playing hard to the youth vote, boasting of how many fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter that he has — but not all his positions are in step with young voters.

Ammiano noted how Newsom opposes his legislation to legalize and tax marijuana, an issue that polls strongly with young people and that could help the state's fiscal crisis. Ammiano said he asked many of Newsom's young volunteers at the recent California Democratic Convention (although few were from San Francisco) about the issue, and they were surprised at Newsom's position. "A lot of the young people who supported him at the Democratic convention did not know he's not supporting my marijuana bill [Assembly Bill 390]," Ammiano told us.

There's also the fact that Newsom opposed this moment's big change candidate, President Barack Obama. Instead, he joined with most political establishment Democratic stalwarts and backing Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

In fact, some of Obama's California supporters are looking to bring a candidate who shares their values into the race and have formed a group called Change Candidate for California to recruit a gubernatorial candidate.

"We're not convinced that Mayor Newsom is the best candidate to lead us out of this crisis," said Steve Fowler, one of the group's founders. "We are inspired by the Obama campaign and we want a leader who can reengage Californians with their state."

O'Connor also thinks there's a good possibility others will get into the race: "It's not a good field on either side and you may see some people come in as a result."

Yet for now, Newsom the candidate looks like a strong contender, despite his myriad flaws.

"But the question is, How does that brand govern?" Cook said.

Being the postpartisan maverick may play well at the polls, but Gov. Schwarzenegger is proving that it translates into being unable to govern the state effectively or find common ground between the two polarized parties.

"It's a good campaign position," Cook said. "But I don't think this is a viable governing strategy for California."