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SF mayor, trailing in polls, withdraws from governor's race

Gavin Newsom cites family, time constraints as primary reasons for quitting race

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced Friday that he is pulling out of the California governor's race, citing time constraints and his growing family as the primary reasons for his withdrawal.

"With a young family and responsibilities at City Hall, I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to - and should be - done," he said in a prepared statement.

"This is not an easy decision. But it is one I make with the best intentions for my wife, daughter, the residents of the city and county of San Francisco and California Democrats," he continued.

A Field Poll released Oct. 8 showed Newsom trailing behind California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who has not officially entered the race but formed an exploratory committee, by 20 points among Democratic voters.

Brown also had the potential to out-fundraise Newsom six-to-one, experts said, despite an endorsement and fundraising effort from former President Bill Clinton earlier this month.

Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, said that by withdrawing early, Newsom saved himself from potential embarrassment and kept his options open.

He could still enter the lieutenant governor's race, and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's term will be up in 2012. Feinstein might not run for re-election.

"If he ends San Francisco on a decent note he could possibly convert that into a Senate run," Whalen said.

Newsom's campaign declined to comment on his future plans.

Whalen and other analysts said it will be tempting for observers to jump to conclusions about whether individual platforms such as gay marriage derailed Newsom's campaign for governor, but they wouldn't necessarily blame those positions.

Ultimately, they said, it came down to his failure to do two things: fundraise and penetrate the state outside of the Bay Area.

"He failed on both counts," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University. "He had pluses and minuses. But for whatever reason, as much time as Newsom spent around the state, he just couldn't gain traction. The more Newsom campaigned, the less effective he seemed to be."

Gerston said that although Newsom has been campaigning for a year, people in other parts of the state don't know much about him except that he's the mayor of San Francisco.

He was also competing against someone with almost four decades of experience in California politics. Although Brown has not officially announced his candidacy, "His shadow loomed so large that Newsom could never see the sunlight," Gerston said.

Newsom and Brown's families have known each other for decades, Gerston said. Brown, 71, has been involved in state politics since Newsom, 42, was a toddler.

Whalen said people tend to underestimate Brown's presence in Democratic circles, particularly the history and connections he can capitalize on while fundraising.

He said Newsom also bet, incorrectly, that technology and youthful progressivism would propel his campaign.

"Remember that he announced his candidacy via Twitter," Whalen said. "He thought he could harness the youth vote and progressivism that propelled Obama, but the technology boom he was hoping for turned out to be a bust. The same enthusiasm doesn't necessary translate to other candidates."

Whalen said he couldn't remember the last time a candidate ran unopposed in a primary election for governor, so someone will probably step up to the race by the March deadline.

He cited Feinstein, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., as three possible candidates.

Feinstein, he said, loves to govern but hates to campaign. She could join the race at the last minute if she decides not to seek re-election

in the Senate.

The California Republican Party issued a statement saying, "Today's announcement by Mayor Newsom has little impact beyond the irony that the party that likes to lecture everyone about diversity is down to just one candidate for governor in an open seat election seven months before the primary."

Meg Whitman's campaign wished Newsom well and said Whitman looks forward to a spirited campaign against the eventual Democratic nominee.

A statement issued by Steve Poizner's campaign described Newsom's withdrawal as an "abject surrender" and called for a debate between Brown, Poizner and any remaining Republican candidates.

"We cannot let the fact that there is currently only one Democratic candidate become an excuse to avoid a necessary discussion of the crisis facing California," the statement said.

Newsom thanked his supporters in his statement and vowed to continue fighting for universal health care, a cleaner environment, a green economy, better education and civil rights.

Janna Brancolini, Bay City News

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