Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Hires Top Consultant

Controller Steve Westly has emboldened his campaign for the California governorship in 2006 by hiring a top Democratic political consultant.

The former eBay executive appointed veteran Democratic strategist Garry South as senior adviser, shaking up a contest that until recently had seemed like GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s to lose.

South was a longtime strategist for California Gov. Gray Davis. Though remembered now as a politician ousted from office in the 2003 recall, Davis had won a number of impressive victories on his climb to the state’s top job. With South’s counsel, beginning in 1993, Davis won the lieutenant governorship the next year bucking the national Republican trend.

Davis was considered the underdog heading into the 1998 Democratic gubernatorial primary. He face two wealthy primary rivals who attacked each other relentlessly. Despite being massively outspent, Davis took advantage of his rivals’ mudslinging against each other and captured the nomination. He then easily won the general election.

The New York Times dubbed South the “Carville of California” and the American Association of Political Consultants named him Campaign Manager of the Year.

Seeking re-election four years later, Davis benefited tremendously from South’s plan to attack the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, even before the GOP nomination had been decided. The Davis campaign spent millions during the Republican primary period airing ads detailing Riordan’s flip-flopping on abortion and other issues. The commercials initially aimed to weaken the moderate Riordan for the general election. But they worked so effectively that Riordan instead lost the Republican nomination to businessman Bill Simon, a novice candidate and hard-right conservative. Despite massive budget shortfalls, an ongoing energy crisis and a myriad of other state problems, Davis won a second term.

Over 30 years as a political consultant, South has managed campaigns for president, U.S. Senate, Congress, governor, lieutenant governor, state legislature, county supervisor and city council, as well as many statewide initiatives.

“Garry South has demonstrated beyond doubt that he knows how to win California gubernatorial races,” said Controller Westly in a statement. “He’s as good as its gets for Democratic campaigns, and I’m delighted to have him join the best campaign team in the country.”

This year Westly enters the gubernatorial race at a time the general election lineup remains somewhat fluid. In the Democratic primary he will face state Treasurer Phil Angelides, a wealthy Sacramento area developer and state party chairman, whose sometimes abrasive style has at times alienate colleagues. He emerged early as a leading critic of Schwarzenegger’s fiscal policies, particularly a bong measure that avoided tax increases but added to the state’s long-term debt burden.

But Schwarzenegger has not announced if he will run for a full term, which would begin in January 2007. His decision will likely rest with the outcome of a series of special election initiatives he put on the November ballot. Covering pension overall and redistricting changes, the proposals will test Schwarzenegger’s popularity, which has sagged considerably in recent months.

Should Schwarzenegger bow out of the 2006 governor’s race, the Democratic nominee would be favored. The Golden State has a pronounced Democratic lean in voter registration, and Democrats dominate both chambers of the state legislature and the congressional delegation.