Saturday, October 31, 2009


Two people just dropped out of political races: Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, withdrew from the race for the Democratic nomination for governor of California. DeDe Scozzafava, the official Republican candidate in NY's 23rd Congressional district, withdrew because of an ideological battle raging in the Republican party between moderates and conservatives. She was losing that battle to the Conservative Party candidate.

Other than the timing, the races are pretty much mirror opposites: one's a Democrat, one's a Republican; they are on different coasts; one dropped out days before the election, the other dropped more than a year before the election. One's a Federal election, but for a single district; the other is a statewide election, but it's California.

Easily the most important difference, tho, is what it says about the politics within each party. Scozzafava was already nominated to be the Republican party nominee in the election; she was ousted by someone who is not technically a Republican. The party of the Establishment was the site of an insurgency. Newsom, on the other hand, withdrew in favor of someone who has not even announced his candidacy yet: Jerry Brown, aka "Governor Moonbeam," a man who could have been described as having an "alternative" approach to governing, had the term been around when he was running California in the late 70's and early 80's. Among Democrats, a man who was at once both a scion of the party (his father was also governor) and a symbol of its flakier elements, is now an elder statesman. As I've always said, irony is 9/10th of the law.

I'm not really going to miss Newsom, although I will miss the competition within the Democratic party. I hadn't spent any time paying attention to his policies yet, but he strikes me, at least from this distance, as smart and competent, but not the most responsible guy around, and not one for reaching out to members of the opposition. The great challenge for the next governor of California is going to be fixing the broken politics of California, which will require rather extraordinary dealmaking skills. Brown has so much history that is so far in the past that even the ghosts of his scandals and strange media interludes have disappeared. He and Linda Ronstadt appeared together on the cover of Newsweek in 1979. There are many voters in California who don't remember this because they weren't born yet. Heck, there are voters in California who don't know who Linda Ronstadt is. A governor dated a mainstream pop star? And the controversy would be . . . ?

There's no word yet on whether or not anyone will rise to challenge Brown. Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of LA, bowed out of the race a while ago, and I don't think he will be tempted to get back in. He seems intent on actually getting the things done that he said he would get done. Dianne Feinstein has wanted the office for literally decades, but she'll also be about 96 when the race starts, and what Democratic Senator would want to leave DC while Obama is in office? Fabian Nunez, former Speaker of the Assembly, is young and ambitious, but he had a bad habit of spending campaign donations on things like "office expenses" at Louis Vuitton in Paris. Not really a great idea.

I know even less about the various personalities involved in the fracas in upstate New York, but boy am I having fun watching it. Doug Hoffman is the nominee of the Conservative party and, now, the Republican one, sort of. So Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, neither of whom, I am willing to bet, has ever set foot in the district, made announcements about who the representative in Congress should be. This had the rather bizarre effect of pissing off the Republican county leaders in the district, but energizing people on talk radio. That's a neat trick. How welcome do you think Ms. Palin and Mr. Pawlenty are going to be in those Republican county offices in 2012? If Mr. Hoffman loses, they will be persona non grata.

The big winner in all of this so far, even before the election, is President Obama. First, he scored points for bringing a Republican into his cabinet: the former Representative, John McHugh, accepted Obama's invitation to be Secretary of the Army. Now Obama gets to watch Republicans engage in a little fratricide. The icing on the cake, of course, will come if the Democrat wins the election.

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