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Gavin Newsom is the best candidate for California governor

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Politicians who are behind in the polls and in fundraising usually resort to hyperbolic accusations against their front-runner opponents, hoping that some of their allegations will stick. That’s what Antonio Villaraigosa is doing. The former L.A. mayor continues to trail Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom in the polls, and, in desperation, has begun throwing mud.

“[Villaraigosa] is going to paint Newsom as a Tesla-driving, elite ex-mayor of a wealthy city…”, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “Villaraigosa will draw the contrast between Newsom, the privileged friend of the wealthy Getty family, and his own upbringing in…East Los Angeles,” the paper says. “[Villagairosa] will be talking about ‘the other California,’ away from the wealthy coast, the one where 20 percent of people live in poverty.”

As strategies go, it at least is one, but not very well thought-out. Somebody ought to remind Villaraigosa that he’s running for the Democratic nomination for Governor of California. His blasts against Newsom—as elite, privileged, and out of touch with working people—sound more like Tea Party smears from a Republican. This is not a strategy calculated to win the hearts and minds of Democratic voters. The “other California” he hopes to appeal to is the red-district Central Valley and Sierra Foothills. Those people are not going to vote for a Democrat, no matter how he portrays himself as a man of the people. They’re going to vote for the Republican. Villaraigosa is fishing for votes in barren waters.

Who cares how much money a candidate has? JFK was far richer than Gavin Newsom. FDR came from an old, privileged family of landed estates. On the other hand, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama came from ordinary roots. This suggests that personal wealth, or the lack of it, doesn’t matter to Democratic voters. They’re too smart to fall for that. They’re interested in a candidate’s positions on the vital issues of the day, not irrelevant things like personal wealth.

By the same token, Villaraigosa’s stressing of his poor East L.A. roots counts for nothing. Sure, it’s inspiring when a politician overcomes the barriers of race and poverty to rise to the top. But that’s not what people care about when they vote. They might admire a Horatio Alger story, but there’s never been a shred of evidence that it counts for anything in electoral politics.

I’ve known Gavin Newsom for nearly thirty years. He didn’t start rich. He envisioned everything he wanted, and then worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever known to make it happen. Granted, his family was friends with the billionaire Gettys, and I’m sure Newsom will explain that as the campaign unfolds. But so what? Gordon Getty’s reputation is spotless. He’s never been implicated in any political scandals. Indeed, the Getty family are backbones of San Francisco’s cultural institutions and charities. For Villaraigosa to imply any kind of impropriety in the Newsom-Getty relationship is an act of cynicism and opportunism. It plays to some imagined resentment on the part of Democratic voters of wealthy people. Perhaps there is some such resentment, but Gordon Getty has immunized himself by dint of the fact that he’s a Democrat. He’s probably lost track of all the Democratic fundraisers he’s held in his home. So Democrats are not going to rise to Villaraigosa’s bait.

Gavin Newsom has been thinking about the issues since the early 1990s. He’s never wavered. He’s always been visionary. As San Francisco’s mayor, he championed gay marriage when it was considered political suicide. Now, same-sex marriage is the law of the land. As Lieutenant-Governor, Newsom is entitled to use an office in the California State Building, in San Francisco, a sterile, ugly structure, filled with bureaucrats and lobbyists. Instead, he chose to work in The Founder’s Den, a shared workspace in the city’s high-tech South of Market district, where he works in the open alongside shirt-sleeved young entrepreneurs and their friends in a spacious environment. This is Newsom’s way of avoiding being in the bubble, of seeing and hearing and feeling young people, with their ideas, hopes and concerns.

Look, Antonio Villagairosa is a fine fellow and, by all accounts, was a good L.A. mayor. But it’s just not his time—and he really ought to figure out how to run an issue-oriented campaign, not just a negative one against the front-runner.

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