Down but not out, Newsom readies the cavalry

Money talks or candidates walk.

That has been the strategy adopted by Jerry Brown’s campaign to persuade gubernatorial candidates to abandon their Sacramento dreams, and it has succeeded — with the exception of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Gone are Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and former state Controller Steve Westly. And without even declaring his candidacy for governor, Brown has amassed a political war chest that dwarfs Newsom’s.

With nine months until the June 8 Democratic primary, Newsom is facing harsh criticism for his lack of fundraising. But the young mayor claims this is exactly where he wants to be.

Brown, running under the guise that he aims to be re-elected to his current position as state attorney general, raised $3.5 million in the first six months of the year. Newsom collected $1.7 million.

The 71-year-old Brown spent $253,181 during that six-month period while Newsom spent $1.3 million traveling across California doing dozens of town halls and launching an aggressive online campaign.

The Brown campaign said Newsom will fall further behind in the cash race when the attorney general launches an exploratory committee for governor, which campaign sources say could happen within days. It would legally allow him to accept triple the sum of dollars per donor than he can collect for his re-election campaign.

A person can donate no more than $13,000 — $6,500 for the primary and $6,500 for the general election — to Brown for the attorney general campaign. An exploratory committee for governor increases that cap to $51,800 per person, also split between the primary and general election.

Even if Newsom defeats Brown in the primary, analysts say his campaign will struggle to compete against deep-pocketed GOP candidates. Meg Whitman, the billionaire former CEO of eBay, has contributed $19 million of her own money to her campaign.

The Newsom folks “don’t have the $2 million a week it costs to buy television in the state of California,” pollster Ben Tulchin told The Examiner in a recent interview.

Despite the cash criticisms, Newsom said his campaign is going as planned. The mayor said fundraising has not been the sole focus, rather surviving as the “last Democratic candidate standing” has been his core strategy to this point.

“I’m a very unlikely person to still be in this race,” he said. “I’ve never run statewide. I was running against someone like John Garamendi, whose run three times for governor. He’s been on the ballot since I was a kid.”

In the past, Newsom has been a campaign-fundraising machine. He brought in $6.6 million in his first run for mayor, with a record 5,700 San Franciscans donating to that effort. The same-sex marriage advocate said the economic climate is much worse than it was during that campaign, which followed the dot-com bust.

“This is the race we wanted,” Newsom said. “Our focus was to create a viable campaign [and] we did. Now I got to focus on fundraising.”

The mayor said his campaign has about 30 to 40 events in the next two months geared toward fundraising. Big donations — and more big-time endorsements — are on the way, he said. The campaign received a  boost recently with an endorsement from President Bill Clinton, a friend to Newsom and foe to Brown.

Newsom also hopes endorsements meant for Democratic candidates who have tapped out will come his way, although some local backing has lagged.

The mayor claims to have collected “four or five times” more individual donors than Brown, though they’ve given him much smaller checks.

The Brown camp disputes that claim, saying they’ve also had “several thousand” donors and endorsements that were headed toward other Democratic candidates are likely coming their way.

Who’s bound for Sacramento?

Gavin Newsom has been criticized for not bringing in enough dough for his gubernatorial run. Once Jerry Brown announces his exploratory committee, he will be able to more than triple per-donor limits.

Money raised between Jan. 1 and June 30

Brown: $3.5 million

Campbell: $305,017

Newsom: $1.7 million

Poizner: $4.6 million

Whitman: $10.8 million

Money spent between Jan. 1 and June 30

Brown: $253,181

Campbell: $161,274

Newsom: $1.5 million

Poizner: $1.4 million

Whitman: $6.2 million

* Figures do not include fundraising/spending that occurred prior to this time period or any donations reported after the filing deadline. They also don’t include candidates’ personal contributions.

Source: Secretary of State campaign finance figures

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