Well, the salvo coming from the Lee campaign trying to smear Dennis Herrera for not being a strong enough supporter of same-sex marraige shows at least one thing: The race is closer than the polls are reporting.
For the former staffers of Gavin Newsom -- and everyone knows who they are, because there weren't that many people in those meetings -- to come forward two weeks before the election with these allegations was a serious political risk. For starters, Herrera is really popular in the LGBT community, and already, much of the city's queer leadership (including Tom Ammiano, Mark Leno and Scott Wiener) has responded by denouncing the attack. The three, along with Phyllis Lyon and representatives of both major clubs, Harvey and Alice, will be holding a press conference Oct. 27 in the Castro. A letter that went out today under Lyon's name notes:
A petty smear campaign is underway to personally discredit City Attorney Dennis Herrera over his years of work for marriage equality. Incredibly, despite all the heroic efforts of Dennis and his office right from the start, anonymous sources have pushed a story in the San Francisco Chronicle that Dennis wasn't "supportive" of Mayor Newsom's decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses back in February 2004. It's not true. These politically motivated attackers are hoping we'll forget the years of hard work Dennis and his deputies invested -- and continue to invest even now, in the federal challenge to Prop 8 -- for LGBT equality.
So this could easily backfire and wind up focusing attention on all of Herrera's LGBT support.
It's also a risk for Lee. Although his name isn't on any of this, his people are clearly behind it; Newsom (who just endorsed Lee) and his former staffers (some of whom are now Lee's staffers) wouldn't have contacted the Chronicle and pushed this story without the knowledge and permission of the mayor and his senior campaign people. Wiener, who is often one of Lee's allies on the board, is clearly unhappy about the blast at his former boss. Leno, who isn't involved in the election all, is now going to be pissed at the mayor. And if this winds up looking like a Lee-sponsored political swipe at an LGBT community ally, Lee's going to lose votes and support.
So why do it? It makes no sense -- Lee has tried to appear as the candidate of civility and reason, above the mudslinging fray. He's trying to act so much like the inevitable winner that he doesn't even show up for a lot of the debates and forums. There's no point in dishing this kind of story up -- unless the Lee camp has polling data showing the race tightenting and Herrera emerging as a serious challenger.
It's a pretty basic rule in campaigns: You don't risk political capital attacking candidates who are no threat to you. So if I were Herrera, I'd be mad -- but also encouraged. They're obviously worried.