If the Democratic party really wants to hold on to the White House following President Obama's exit, it needs to look past Hillary Rodham Clinton. The best hope for victory is California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Newsom hasn't publicly expressed any interest in running for president in 2016. Instead, his eye is on becoming governor in 2018 and he has already put up a website (it accepts bitcoin donations). Yet, if by some cosmic roll of the dice Newsom changes his mind and decides to declare his candidacy for president, all this gauzy talk of Clinton's inevitability and lock on the Democratic nomination will take a huge hit. Dare I say game-changer?
Newsom will play well on the campaign trail, especially in states like Iowa and New Hampshire where voters like new-ness. With his still-youthful swagger, smarts and oratorical chops, he has a rock-star vibe. At 47, he's the age Obama was when he became the 44th U.S. president.
On the other hand, it's doubtful if Clinton will be able to inspire a passionate get-out-to-vote movement among a demoralized Democratic base suffering from Obama fatigue. Female voters clearly have a strong affinity for Clinton, but younger voters will be leery of someone her age (she's 67), who isn't tech savvy and has an uneasy, queasy relationship with e-mail and computer servers. Her resume is long and distinguished, though it's wishful thinking to believe Clinton represents the nation's future in the same sense that the Republican Party's fresh crop of contenders -- Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul -- do for the GOP.
Unlike the hyper-calculating Clinton, who seems better known for who she is rather than what she stands for, Newsom is relatable on many levels. He's remarkably candid and has a solid understanding of politics on the local level. His background as a successful hard-working serial entrepreneur insulates himself against claims that he's an elitist, despite his social and political connections to SF's rich set. Newsom even wrote the book ("Citizenville") on how citizens can reshape their government in a digital age.
In 2004, Newsom took a risky, courageous gamble with his political career when, as San Francisco mayor, he directed the city clerk's office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of state law. But Newsom's political instincts were dead on then. It's time for him to act boldly again.
It's easy to imagine the shock and awe among Clintonistas a Newsom candidacy would generate. For starters, they would pile on Newsom like it's Wrestlemania. Unpleasant personal details from the past when he was mayor will be wielded as campaign cudgels. Yet few will care. American voters are more worried about jobs, their uncertain financial future and the environment.
On the fundraising front, there's no denying Hillary's monetary advantage and access Bill's Wall Street cronies and to a vast network of campaign-donation bundlers. Her financial edge can be offset by Newsom's well-established connections to California's deep-pocketed liberal elite. Hollywood's lean-to-the-left cabal of supporters and check-writers will rally around him and his filmmaker wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom. It's the Golden State's progressive gift that keeps on giving. Additionally, there's all those newly minted tech millionaires in SF and Silicon Valley who will gladly replenish his campaign coffers. They won't need much convincing, either.
Clinton's army of enablers will emphasize Newsom's lack of foreign policy experience, and how she amassed all those frequent-flier miles jetting to nations' capitals as secretary of state. But what were her accomplishments as a centrist hawk? (There are no Benghazi bones rattling in his closet.) To offset this criticism, Newsom should let voters know early on that he will select an internationalist and military expert, perhaps former Virginia Sen. James Webb, as his running mate.
In May 2006, I wrote a column for Huffington Post entitled: "SF Mayor Gavin Newsom for President." I was half-joking then, but nearly nine years later, I am completely serious.