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Britney Spears for Governor? Is Star Power All It Takes?

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Breathless, glam-heavy MSM stories and TMZ.com just by themselves could help propel Gavin Newsom all the way into the governor's chair.

How? It's not as if the worldwide economic crash suddenly extracted us from celebrity worship or the 800 pound ubiquity of fame in our culture. (Less, if you're successful on Biggest Loser.) "We're in a reality TV series now in politics, 24/7," Gavin told Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci. And he knows how to pose. As Carla pointed out, he was "nabbed on video last year in a hush-hush Malibu tete-a-tete with a political consultant", looking as casual and fabulous as Matthew McConaughey on the beach, and that report "tipped off Newsom's run for governor."

The guy who's in that Sacramento seat now started off as a big star and Mr. Newsom is doing his best to make himself one, with the help of the sudden paparazzi interest in shiny politicians, Bill Maher, and even a new movie that the Mayor had nothing to do with but which stars his lovely wife.

"Jennifer Siebel Newsom's Threesome Movie Hitting Theaters" reads the panting HuffPo headline. I know something about raciness and spouses and I can tell you that Mrs. Newsom is getting a raw deal on this point. The film was shot before the couple was married and, several commenters to that post point out, threesomes are old news, especially in a place like San Francisco where, as Gavin told Bill Maher the other night, we have "municipal marijuana."

OK, that's not fair, either. He meant "medicinal" and corrected himself.

The mayor knows the pitfalls of triangles anyway and no doubt stays away from them religiously.

But the media, for all of Gavin's thin skin about it, hasn't exactly been hounding him lately. There have been stories that match him up with new GOP challenger Meg Whitman as though he's the front-runner. He's not. That would be Jerry Brown, who hasn't been on prime time cable shows or followed by rat pack photogs lately. In a Chronicle piece also by veteran political ace reporter Carla a few weeks ago about the age different between Brown and Newsom, Gavin claimed he remembers sitting on Jerry's knee as a child. A very potent and savvy image to peddle in making your point on the age gap. The only problem was that it may not have been true.

Jerry isn't quoted about it but he told me last week that the knee thing never happened and that he had not met Gavin until the boy mayor was considerably older than lap-sitting age. (Lap dancing is another issue.)

Maybe Jerry's just having a senior moment.

What he's not having is the glamour and attention of his opponent, the kind he had back as a young bachelor candidate-then-governor himself dating stars like Linda Rondstadt.

The last California politician to try that glitter magic route after the earlier Jerry and before Arnold was Tom Hayden, the former 60s activist (do we still call them radical? He was no Bill Ayers), then married to the superstar Jane Fonda. Mr. Hadyen, who ran for a California senate seat in in 1976, didn't have the GQ-quotient Gavin does, and certainly did not hobnob with the head of IBM, or whoever the equivalent of the Google founders was at the time.

Hayden was more charismatic and less attractive than Gavin, but he shared some progressive politics and a history of impulsive behavior problems. My cousin, screenwriter, novelist and political journalist Jeremy Larner, remembers Tom attacking him across a dinner table, trying to stab him in the eye with a chopstick after Jeremy suggested the then radical/activist had two different standards -- one for the US and the other for the USSR.

The sheen wore off Tom Hayden in a few years. He served in the state legislature, then sought other offices unsuccessfully, ending in a failed shot at the LA City Council. Ms. Fonda peeled off as well, marrying Ted Turner, getting bigger hair and other parts and settling into a less political but seemingly more contented late middle age.

I'm not saying Gavin will follow that route, just that he seems to be starting there.

On the Maher show appearance, he was all relaxed charm, with only a dash of wonkiness. He lauded the "narrative" of President Obama's first weeks in office. He said Mr. Obama "was smart enough to learn the lessons of the past" in not burdening viewers with 1,400 pages of detail during his budget address. Including, presumably, Gavin's example of his 7-hour YouTube State of the City. He saluted the blogosphere: "some of it's quite brilliant." Unclear if he was referring to his own blog. And he agreed with his host about the last "30 years of one (bad) direction" under Republicans.

Oops. He forgot eight years of Bill Clinton. But that's just more shrewd politicking. He was a huge Hillary person, along with a boatload of the biggest San Francisco Democratic donors, and an Obama detractor -- who he blamed more for Prop 8 passing than he did himself. That was all until the Obama tidal wave hit. Then he became a true believer.

Remembering Gavin's own 24/7 thing, it's worth pointing out in the Maher clip where Gavin says "we have universal health care. You can do all that and grow the economy." But wait. There's that weird, record $565 million budget gap that doesn't really reflect a lot of growth.

Maybe it's just that the Mayor has been traveling so much lately he's not been around for all the budget meetings. This is not necessarily a new thing. Davos has trumped city business for years, and even ranked higher than meeting of the US Conference of Mayors. Gavin was made a co-chair of the Hunger and Homelessness committee (his big civic issue) in part because they needed another chair who would actually show up at the committee meetings.

We miss Gavin and he's not even gone yet.

But if there's a camera, a spiffy "narrative" to add to or a potential audience on the way to his next job, count him in.

As Carla wrote in her story about paparazzi and politics: "Bottom line, (the candidates for governor) can actually learn something from (Lindsay) Lohan and (Britney) Spears."

For more, read Bronstein at Large.