Former California governor Jerry Brown, who recently announced his bid to return to the governor's mansion, has a clear road ahead; with three months until the primary, it's all but certain that Brown will coast unopposed to the nomination. It's unusual for such a Democratic state (California gave 61 percent of its vote to Obama in 2008) to have only one left-leaning choice—and for that choice to be a quirky and aging politician who held the office decades ago. Why are there no other candidates? NEWSWEEK explains why other potential contenders won't—or in some cases, can't—make a bid for the office.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: L.A.'s charismatic mayor abandoned his bid to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he needed to focus on his city. "I can't leave this city in the middle of a crisis, it's as simple as that." He said the decision was an "agonizing" one but that with L.A. facing a $530 million deficit and 12.5 percent unemployment, he was needed at home. The real reason? Although early polls put him closely behind Brown in a two-way race, they also found that Villaraigosa didn't have the name recognition and track record to beat Brown, who at that point wasn't even a candidate. The LA Weekly newspaper ran a devastating critique of Villaraigosa in 2008 that sullied his image with the revelation that almost 90 percent of his time was spent promoting himself and not the city. It didn't help that, a year earlier, he admitted to having an affair with a TV anchor. In an L.A. Times poll, only a small proportion of Angelinos supported his bid for governor, and a recent cover of Los Angeles Magazine had just one word across a picture of the Mayor: FAILURE.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom: The City by the Bay's young mayor, with his matinee-idol looks, dropped out of the race last October, citing the usual excuses—obligations to his family and his current job. "This is not an easy decision," he explained in a statement. "But it is one made with the best intentions for my wife, my daughter, the residents of the city and county of San Francisco, and California Democrats." But it wasn't hard to notice that his campaign was gaining virtually no traction. His poll numbers were lackluster, donors were avoiding him, and a high-profile endorsement from Bill Clinton couldn't really move the needle either. One reason: an earlier affair with his campaign manager's wife. Another: San Francisco's liberal mayor was simply too far to the left for the state's more moderate Democratic voters.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: You'd have to think long and hard about giving up a leadership position in the U.S. Senate to hit the campaign trail. California's senior senator had entertained the prospect of moving from Washington, D.C., to Sacramento, but in the end decided to stay put. "At this stage of my life, do I really want to go out and raise $150 million to run for governor?" she told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. "I'm going to stay where I am." And she is in a good place. Feinstein heads the powerful Intelligence Committee and, last year, chaired the presidential inaugural committee. Vying for governor would mean she'd also have to go head to head with her pal Brown: "I called Jerry Brown and I said, 'Jerry, don't worry, I'm not going to run. I'm going to stay where I am,' and he kiddingly said, 'Oww, I was hoping you would.'"
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass: Bass was termed out of the legislature's top job this year, and she could have used the powerful office to raise her profile for a promotion to governor. "There have been a number of people that encouraged me," she told NEWSWEEK. But with incredibly low approval numbers for the chamber she leads—at times as low as 15 percent—and poor name recognition, Bass says she ruled out a run. "I chose to be speaker and step up at a difficult time, and really, our difficult times will continue for a while." And she has other plans. Later this year, Bass says she'll run for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Diane Watson, which Bass has a good shot at winning.
California Treasurer Bill Lockyer: Lockyer is frank in admitting he considered vying for the executive office, but it just came down to numbers. "I reached the conclusion that no one can get by Jerry Brown in the primary." Brown, he says, has the strongest name recognition of anyone in California Democratic politics. What's more, Brown has the legacy of California's glory days, when the state's debt was a 10th of what it is now. Lockyer says he has unspecified "personal factors" also preventing him from running, but even if he didn't, he couldn't imagine his portrait in the hall of governors quite yet: "I might be able to work out the personal factors if I thought there was a chance at winning, but I don't."
Venture Capitalist Steve Westly: The state's high-profile controller left office in 2007 to head a venture capital firm. But he says he still plans a run for Arnold's job at some point. "I plan to run in the future, but not now," Westly, 54, told NEWSWEEK. "I have two small children. I made a personal decision. I didn't want to lose these years." That doesn't mean he won't run in four or eight years, when his kids are grown and when California might be in better shape. Of course by then, everyone else might want the job, too.